Sunday evening's Paine Hall concert by the Bach Society Orchestra was an amateur event in the best sense of the word: it was obvious from beginning to end that conductor Michael Greenebaum and every one of his players love to make music. And this, after all, is far more important in a college group than technical perfection.
The chief novelty of the evening was the premiere of an orchestra Fugue by John Austin, and Eliot House junior. This relatively large-scale work shows continued preoccupation with the problems of counterpoint that he tackled in his smaller Model Canons and Fugal Picces for Three Violins. The result is his most ambitious, yet most personal and communicative piece to date.
Vary rarely indeed does one find a young composer writing almost exclusively in contrapuntal texture. Those who don't master it early usually never master it at all, as Gluck, Schubert and Schumann discovered. So one can only applaud Austin's approach, especially since this Fugue turned out to be much more than an academic exercise. Austin showed a definite flair for orchestration; the sound was clear and the climaxes well spaced. If the sonorities and harmonies were often reminiscent of his teacher, Roy Harris, no matter; this is as it should be in a composer's formative years. The encouraging thing is that Austin has assimilated Harris' virtues, and not his faults (which are many).
The other novelty was Handle's Harp Concerto in B-flat. Soloist Sally Day traversed her fiendishly difficult part with ease and grace. The total effect was a treat to the car, and to the eye as well.
The program opened with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, in which Cynthia Crain, Annette Colish and Kenneth McIntosh all played with assurance the solo parts for flute, violin and keyboard, respectively (a piano was used for the original harpsichord). Though technically a concerto grosso, this work is in a sense the first real solo concerto for keyboard, owing to the general prominence and the extended cadenza allotted to it. McIntosh's runs were as even as pearls, and he exerted admirable dynamic restraint throughout (his versatility even extended to playing the horn in the other works). The initial orchestral tempo was sluggish, but McIntosh picked it up in his cadenza and Greenebaum kept it for the closing tutti. The slow movement, for the soloists only, should have had, to be authentic, a cello doubling the bottom line.
Wagner's Siegfried Idyll demonstrated fine woodwind playing, but it suffered from some insecure string intonation and from a general inflexibility unsuited to this music of warm and affectionate caresses.
Greenebaum concluded the concert with Haydn's great 'London' Symphony in D. It is to his everlasting credit that he observed Haydn's indicated repeats in the outside movements--a rarity in these days of money-minded record companies and clock-minded union officials. The musicians performed with unsophisticated dash and hearty vigor, which would have marred Mozart but was just right here. Haydn would have been pleased.