Over the years the Boston Classical Orchestra has carved a niche for itself presenting early classical symphonies in an iconic Boston venue, Faneuil Hall. But the orchestra’s loyal audiences also seem to appreciate the frequent opportunities BCO provides to see well-known and should-be-better-known local musicians performing as soloists in unusual repertory.
In this vein, Sunday’s BCO concert brought a well-deserved turn in the spotlight for two newer members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s brass section: Toby Oft and Rachel Childers. It’s true of course that Oft, as principal trombone, may be heard in plenty of orchestral solos over the course of a Symphony Hall season, but I would doubt he has held out much hope that the BSO will ever feature him in Ferdinand David’s Concertino for Trombone and Orchestra. And yet there he was on Sunday with this perfectly listenable work by the forgotten 19th-century concertmaster who inspired Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and taught the great violinist Joseph Joachim. Oft’s playing was grounded yet flexible, his tone ringing and golden. It was a pleasure to hear.
The fact is that many orchestral musicians, as a way of honing technique, spend years of their lives learning obscure solo repertory that they will rarely if ever have a chance to perform beyond the walls of the conservatory. French horn players may have a few more opportunities than trombonists to step in front of an orchestra, but still not many. Sunday’s crowd seemed delighted to meet Childers, who was appointed last season as the BSO’s second horn, and as the first female brass player in the orchestra’s history. Under the baton of BCO music director Steven Lipsitt, she delivered a nimble and well-contoured account of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3 (K. 447).
The atmosphere at BCO concerts tends toward the informal side, and Lipsitt often addresses the crowd directly from the stage. On Sunday, before a selection by Leopold Mozart, the conductor deadpanned that the players deserve our respect for their serious devotion to their craft. He then turned around and gave a downbeat for the “Toy” Symphony, in which the composer (Wolfgang’s father) calls for contributions from toy instruments of all sorts. Children’s drums and rattles suddenly sprung up across the orchestra and Lipsitt himself warbled away on a bird whistle, his fluted tones mixing with delighted laughter from the crowd.
The program also included symphonies without toys, or more specifically Haydn’s 28th, in a lively yet unhurried performance that reflected the music’s easy charm. The over-reverberant acoustics of Faneuil Hall can be unforgiving for larger orchestras, so one appreciated the relative clarity Lipsitt achieved with Sunday’s more modestly scaled forces, even if the balance of the small string section seemed at times slightly top-heavy. The afternoon opened with a genial performance of Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia No. 3, written when he was just 12 years old, a reminder that this composer’s gifts as a prodigy in some ways exceeded even those of Mozart. Another visit from Childers and Oft, collaborating on Michael Haydn’s Concertino for Horn and Alto Trombone (with cadenzas by Lipsitt), affably capped the afternoon. BCO wraps up its season on April 13 and 14, with a program spotlighting baritone Philip Lima in works by Mahler and Lee Hoiby.