Richard Burgin conducted the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra for the first time Sunday night, and it gave its finest performance in many years. Since the personnel of the orchestra is substantially the same as last season, much of Sunday's success must be attributed to Burgin's direction. He is an experienced and talented musician, so it is not too surprising that the entire orchestra--from the marvelous solo trumpet to the lowliest of the second violins--should exhibit such a high degree of discipline and responsiveness. What is surprising is the overflowing enthusiasm of the group: eighty-five musicians who like their conductor, like each other, and love to play music.
Take the Academic Festival Overture, for instance. Brahms' genial medley of college songs may sound at times like a Germanic version of Leroy Anderson, but the orchestra played it with the concentration of the B.S.O. and the spirit of the Harvard Band. The many sudden dynamic changes and tricky syncopated passages could be disastrous for an amateur group, but, thanks to arduous rehearsing and Burgin's unmistakable beat, the errors were few and minor. The strings, particularly in the quieter measures, showed a lightness and precision that had been missing for the past four the past four seasons.
In a work like Dvorak's Fourth Symphony, precision is less important than flexibility and relaxation of tempi. The versatility of Burgin and his musicians made the potentially soggy score interesting from beginning to end. By deflating the rhetorical elements and stressing the more sincerely lyrical sections, Burgin kept the work moving steadily forward. The entire woodwind choir produced beautifully pure tones combined with accuracy and incisive intonation. Jane Rogers played the difficult first trumpet part with power and clarity; the last movement, virtually a concerto for brass instruments with percussion obligatto, gave her and her colleagues ample opportunities to display their talents.
Randall Thompson's Symphony No. 3, which filled out the program, seemed to be quite uneven. The opening largo elegiaco begins with a somber, compelling string sequence that later blends subtly with more agitated material. The orchestration is sometimes sharply contemporary, sometimes comfortably old-fashioned, but there is always an inner logic to this movement (and to the next one) that is almost relentless in its forward motion. Thompson, however, does not seem to sustain these feelings. The last two movements, if heard out of context, would be quite enjoyable; there is a nice, smooth melodic line in the third movement and some sprightly tunes in the finale, but these seem divorced from what had gone before. The frequent repetitions contrast unfavorably with the economy and sparseness of the opening movements, and the final triumphant measures sound tacked on. Of course it is unfair and impossible to make any positive critical remarks after only one hearing. The symphony is, at the very least, a pleasant and competent work, and except for the dragging third movement, it received a sonorous, well-balanced performance. Thompson, who was in the audience, shared the ovation with Burgin and the jubilant orchestra.