Certainly details matter, and flaws in the smallest ones can mar the results of weeks of hard work. The auguries were good for the Boston Classical Orchestra—a compact, albeit powerful, ensemble of some Boston’s finest freelance musicians joining forces to present some truly monumental works. Saturday evening’s program, although not the most challenging, was substantial—a concert of Schubert’s B-flat Major Overture D. 470, Weber’s First Symphony Op. 19 and the Beethoven Violin Concerto Op. 61. For what I presume are both financial and historical reasons, the ensemble performs in Boston’s Faneuil Hall—a venue for historic speeches and home to hundreds of naturalization ceremonies. But under the watchful gazes of Daniel Webster, John Adams and Frederick Douglass, in front of the red, white and blue bunting that adorns the stage, one wondered if issues with balance and cohesion wouldn’t have resolved themselves in a less muddy space.
To complain is to be peevish, but the effects were noticeable. Details were not lost to the orchestra, which amply revealed their superb training and grasp of the repertoire. But something significant was lost throughout the evening: sharp contrasts in color and tempo as well as the crisp, almost Mozart-ian lines of Schubert’s overture disappeared in Faneuil Hall. An over-eager timpanist, in collusion with the lower strings and brass, all but obfuscated the Schubert’s melodic lines at some points. The acoustics surprisingly sometimes favored the intricacies of the Schubert’s inner voices—a technical feat for which the orchestra and conductor should certainly be commended.
Yet the venue continued to prove problematic in Weber’s symphony. The work is a marvelous drama, weaving opera buffa-like characters into the thread of the music. The ensemble clearly understood the intent of the composer and presented a crisp read of the clever Scherzo movement, but Faneuil Hall’s acoustics required modifications: the tempi dragged; dramatically forceful passages lolled into mere tableaux, and, in general, much of the effect of Weber’s work was lost.
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto presented similar challenges. Soloist Sharon Roffman is certainly a favorite of BCO (much was made of Roffman’s appearance with the ensemble for the third season in a row) and tomes can be written about the young artist’s considerable talents. Roffman’s Beethoven on Saturday was blithe yet substantial, a musical force that reads a profundity into the work while remaining sensitive to the exquisite delicacy of the line. Roffman’s self-composed cadenzas epitomized these aspects in a technically and thematically complex line somehow kissed with a stylus phantasticus whimsy— truly a major highlight of the evening. Certainly, Roffman should be commended for sustaining a solo line against the thick lower voices in BCO’s Saturday evening performance, but discrepancies in tempo presented challenges, as an eager soloist battled the conductor, resulting in tense, unsteady passages. In addition, issues with tuning, particularly evident in the early movements of the concerto, presented major obstacles.
Yet despite the venue, BCO’s musical statement was not lost on a rapt audience: practically every movement of Saturday evening’s performance was received with warm applause, culminating in an enthusiastic standing ovation. In comments prior to intermission, conductor Steven Lipsitt celebrated the ensemble’s close relationship with its listeners, reiterating a commitment to playing music its audiences had requested. Following his talk Lipsitt led BCO in the “Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). BCO continues its season on December 9th with a Boston Pops-style family-friendly concert in Faneuil Hall.