in: Reviews

October 1, 2012

BCO Shows Off Soloists

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Steven Lipsitt, music director of Boston Classical Orchestra, often remarks to his audiences and players that they constitute a family. On Sunday afternoon, BCO delivered an hour and one half of mostly arrangements and transcriptions designed to show off eight of the orchestra’s players as soloists as well as the director’s abilities as programmer, arranger, and conductor. And a happy family affair it was. The audience beamed as Lipsitt addressed them and warmly acknowledged the playing of orchestra and soloists in a strangely assorted program of Brahms, Mozart, Bartok, and Vivaldi. What was lacking at Faneuil Hall was a virtual goading uncle to charge the familial gathering with some electricity.

Each of the four (5, 10, 1, 6) of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances was wildly applauded and deservedly so. Lipsitt had arranged two of them by parceling out the parts of the missing wind players from the standard orchestral version among the BCO strings. The players embraced a goulashy style full of lively surprises. There were sharply and unanimous executed contrasts, swells, abrupt starts and stops, slides, section-wide grace notes, and other examples of period correct juiciness. If this orchestral version of Brahms’s original two-piano set lacked a certain foam of beeriness, it nevertheless had nice effervescence with notes of vanilla.

Jumping back about 160 years in compositional time from the opening Brahms works, two concertos for four violins and orchestra from Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico (RV 550 and RV 549) gave the concertmaster and three of her section mates chances to stand and shine. The permutations of solos, duets, trios, and quartets with the orchestra extending to section divisi moments of 3, 3, 3, 3 and 6 and 6 in the tuttis offered pleasant variety and served to relieve some relentlessness inherent in Vivaldi’s writing. The straight playing in a modified early music style clearly contrasted the juicier Brahms.

Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances (1915), which he famously culled and embellished from his field recordings, was another set of pieces originally for piano. One can presume that the un-credited arranger for string orchestra was Arthur Wilner. Again, Lipsitt and the BCO delivered a lively performance, but not one that came close to effacing my memories of the grittier more authentic take by the late violinist Joseph Szigeti. Nor were concertmaster Sandra Stecher Kott’s solo turns up to those of the aforementioned master.

The entire second half was devoted to The Sinfonia Concertante in E Major for a solo quartet of oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn with orchestra, K. 297b. Generally accepted as an unfinished work of Mozart, the piece has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly research — notably by BMInt’s editor, Robert Levin. He wrote:

Although this work has enjoyed worldwide popularity and is available in many recordings, there is no circumstantial evidence linking it with Mozart, and its authenticity has been challenged with increasing vigor. Nonetheless, a study by Daniel N. Leeson and myself demonstrates that while the solo parts to the disputed work are for a different instrumentation than Mozart’s original, they display a specific pattern of proportions and thematic content found only in authentic Mozart concertos. We believe that a set of solo parts to Mozart’s work somehow survived, and that someone else later transcribed them for the new instrumentation, supplying the missing orchestral accompaniment. Further details concerning Mozart’s work (K. Anh. 9/297B), the dubious sinfonia concertante (K. 297b/Anh. C 14.01), the tests I performed on K. 297b/Anh. C 14.01, and the methods I used to reconstruct K. Anh. 9/297B from it, are contained in my monograph, “Who Wrote the Mozart Four-Wind Concertante?” (published by Pendragon Press). In the end, however, the music makes the best case, and my reconstruction seeks to convince the listener directly that its essence is genuine Mozart.

In his talk with the audience, Lipsitt acknowledged Levin’s work on the piece and added at my request for BMInt readers:

I studied Bob’s version, but have always preferred the oboe-clarinet “traditional” version to Bob’s reconstructed flute-oboe version in terms of the solo quartet itself. Regarding orchestration and structure, I borrowed his idea of skipping and/or compressing much of the orchestral exposition and interludes (especially in the first movement) and omitting the orchestral ritornelli in the third movement. So it is essentially my own version, recognizable to listeners who know the “traditional” Breitkopf & Haertel, but with some of the transparency and fluency that Bob is after in his edition.

The BCO’s rendition felt a bit restrained in the Allegro first movement and a bit hurried in the middle Adagio, but the familiar Andantino mit Variationi last movement positively delighted. The sound of the 26 players in the hall was quite warm and satisfying. The solo oboe Barbara LaFitte sparkled and the clarinet soloist Ian Grietzer seemed to enjoy the spotlight. Bassoonist Ronald Haroutunian made the most of a background role, but the solo horn playing of Frederick Aldrich was sometimes overmatched by Mozart’s demands.

1 Comment

  1. Nice to see that the rarely-performed Sinfonia Concertante is getting some attention in Boston! I should point out that Grand Harmonie, a new period-instrument group focused on Classical and Romantic repertoire featuring winds, will be performing Robert Levin’s version of the Concertante this coming March. We hope listeners will enjoy the treat of getting to hear both versions in the same concert season!

    Comment by Yoni Kahn — October 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm

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