|Richard Stoltzman joined in on Gerald Finzi's Op. 31 Concerto and two encores. (John Pearson)|
Music requires multitasking: make a beautiful sound, for example, but also give that sound a direction through time. Friday's Faneuil Hall concert by the Boston Classical Orchestra, under the baton of music director Steven Lipsitt, had more alternation than coordination.
Sound predominated in the first half of the all-British program - a rich, deep sound, bigger than one would expect from the chamber-size, 19-player string ensemble. But the plush tone slowed the pace. A performance of Edward Elgar's Op. 20 "Serenade" accepted that composer's reputation for gentle melancholy perhaps too readily: The excess geniality robbed the music of urgency and momentum. Gustav Holst's "St. Paul's Suite" opened with impressively noble demeanor, but the vigorous folk-inspired dances lagged; more introspective movements, particularly the enigmatic "Ostinato," shimmered like silk but didn't spin a compelling thread.
Elgar's more familiar "Introduction and Allegro," Op. 47, took the opposite tack, sacrificing a certain timbral refinement in favor of rhythmic impetus, with more persuasive results. With the first-chair players forming a solo quartet, the entire ensemble adopted a soloist's edge, driving the music forward. Although the homogenized tone flattened out counterpoint - the intricate, scurrying fugue seemed somewhat wan after the oratorical opening - the overall shape came through with more clarity and energy than the first pair of works. (Cellist Mark Simcox emphasized the final chord's punctuation with an apposite, inadvertently flying bow.)
Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman joined the group for Gerald Finzi's Op. 31 Concerto, dating from 1949. The musically extroverted Stoltzman has never been the type of soloist who disappears behind his instrument, and some jazz-like idiosyncrasies - a reedy, brassy tone in loud spots, an occasional touch of vibrato - made fleeting appearances. But overall, it was his formidable, sensitive musicianship on display.
Finzi darkens his pastoral, post-Elgarian harmonies with lustrous shadows; the solo part largely replaces traditional virtuoso passagework with an arching, yearning lyricism. Stoltzman shaped the line with imagination and superb breath control: Even at astonishingly soft dynamics, the notes still flowed into each other, constantly alive and propulsive. Physically interacting as much with the players as with Lipsitt, Stoltzman enticed the group into its best work of the night.
Two encores abandoned England's green and pleasant land: Lipsitt pulled out his own clarinet to join Stoltzman in a movement from Francis Poulenc's youthful, irresistibly impolite Op. 7 duo Sonata, then the ensemble backed Stoltzman's sly, elegant swing in George Gershwin's Hollywood souvenir "Walking the Dog."