IN: Reviews

Boston Classical Orchestra Without Violins


The Boston Classical Orchestra played a first-rate program on Saturday Oct. 22 in historic Faneuil Hall with nary a violin in sight. The thoughtfully programmed concert featuring works by the “three B’s”, J.S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, exploited the riches of the medium and lower registers of the orchestra to great effect.

The program opened with the Beethoven’s Wind Octet. Although the work is listed as op. 103, Beethoven had written it much earlier than the high number implies, and indeed, the humor of the pieces is more reminiscent of Haydn string quartets than some of Beethoven’s later works. In particular the octave hiccup which opens the melody in the Menuet movement made a lighthearted impression. The performers played with excellent balance, beauty of tone, and generally good intonation. Some wickedly difficult horn moments were dispatched with aplomb by Lee Wadenpfuhl.

The performance of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 showcased world-renowned violist Kim Kashkashian (read BMint’s recent interview with her here) and her former student, the excellent Dimitri Murrath as the soloists, with Music Director Steven Lipsitt directing from the harpsichord. Scored for two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, bass & harpsichord, this piece was played at an incredibly bright tempo, which allowed both Ms. Kashkashian and Mr. Murrath to display their flawless technical facility. It used to be thought that violists were the violinists who “couldn’t cut it”. That antiquated thought was more than put to rest by the fleetness of their perfectly matched passagework, their flawless intonation, and the complete ease with which these brilliantly matched musicians cantered and galloped together like a pair of race horses.  As the piece was coming to the return of the theme at the end of the third movement, Ms. Kashkashian could be seen smiling with the joy that sometimes comes in a performance when all elements are in place: expressing  pleasure at the physical exhilaration of mastering particularly difficult passages, at her communion with and respect for the brilliance of the composer who has written such things, and at the breathless attention she could sense from the audience members who were on the edges of their chairs sharing this experience.

The concert concluded with a sumptuous rendition of Brahms’s Serenade No. 2 which Lipsitt conducted and the forces played with great warmth and delicacy. Often Brahms sounds dense and rich as triple chocolate fudge; this performance was lyrical and transparent, letting his melodic gifts sing. All in all, it was a very satisfying evening.

Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I’m delighted & grateful that Elisa Birdseye was able to attend our program in Faneuil Hall, and that she enjoyed & appreciated the program’s design as well as our performances. I can tell you definitively that this concert was as much fun to play as it was to hear!
    I write only to point out that some of the “wickedly difficult horn moments” in Beethoven’s octet actually belong to the second horn part, ably dispatched by longtime BCO member Frederick Aldrich. (I played second clarinet on the piece, and without a score in front of me at rehearsal, I also thought Lee had those flourishes…) But of course all the octettists (well, seven out of eight anyway) were at the top of their game!
    Steven Lipsitt
    (Music Director, Boston Classical Orchestra)

    Comment by Steven Lipsitt — October 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm

  2. Thanks for the correction! Fred Aldritch definitely deserves the credit! And I agree, that all were at the top of their game.

    Comment by Elisa Birdseye — October 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm

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