On Thursday night, the Boston Symphony Orchestra opened 2017 with a departure from the usual three-course meal concert format, serving up instead a tasting menu of infrequently emphasized flavors and composers. Wind and brass soloists from the ranks of the orchestra took the spotlight at the front of the stage for five short works ranging from the Baroque period to the 1960s. BSO assistant conductor Ken-David Masur kept things in line with limber, straightforward style.
Principal piccolo Cynthia Meyers shone in the first course, Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C. She flowed through a sinuous minor key stream anchored by diaphanous but steady continuo, and in the virtuosic finale, she weaved between the string pulses like a Rollerblader through rush-hour traffic.
The stage filled a little more for André Jolivet’s 1948 Concertino for Trumpet, String Orchestra and Piano, a succulent sound mosaic that featured principal trumpet Thomas Rolfs and pianist Vytas Baksys. The composer referred to the Concertino as a “ballet for trumpet,” and Rolfs’s solo was an agile principal dancer: slinking through the score, trailing long notes gracefully, and whirling into tricky twisters of staccato.
Mozart contemporary Franz Krommer’s double clarinet concerto was the find of the night, as principal clarinet William Hudgins and section player Michael Wayne defined “dynamic duo.” Their solo lines ran alongside each other in parallel octaves or gossiped in cascading close harmony, and one flew up the steps of the scale while the other slid down the banister.
Nino Rota is best known in America for his “Godfather” and Fellini film scores, and Thursday marked his work’s first appearance on a BSO program, with principal trombone Toby Oft playing his galloping, adventurous trombone concerto. The piece’s structure evokes a journey down a road of trials, and Oft’s lonesome, mellow solos stood as an intimate contrast to the sweeping orchestral texture.
For dessert, horn players James Sommerville, Michael Winter, Rachel Childers, and Jason Snider served up the quadruple-layered Baked Alaska that is Schumann’s “Conzertstück” in F for four horns and orchestra, a rare, sumptuous treat that came out a touch overcooked. The piece, and the instrument it stars, are as temperamental as the dessert. Some of the whoops and crunches in Thursday’s performance definitely weren’t in the original recipe. But what was absent in precision was certainly present in spirit and connection, as the four players leaned into figures and fanfares together and batted the melody around between them. Even slightly melted, it tasted sweet.
BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
At Symphony Hall, Jan. 5 (repeats Jan. 7)Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.