At Paine Hall
The music in Wednesday evening's Music Club concert ran the gamut from the ridiculous to the nearsublime. Along this scale were works by three B's--not the original trio of Bach, Beethoven and Berlioz (the last of whom a fourth B, Hans von Bulow, changed to Brahms), but a new group comprising John Bavicchi 4G, Bertram Baldwin '58 and David Behrman '59.
Bavicchi's Sonata for violin and Piano (1956) received a well-nigh definitive performance at the hands of Ayrton Pinto and Jacqueline Young. The three movement work is admirably written from the stand point of idiomatic instrumental technique. But the outside movements, despite their fast tempo and apparent busyness, indulged in series of effects and cliches, with a resulting lack of cohesion; the finale seemed to be a chain of rousing stretta-like conclusions without a beginning or a middle. Slow movements are normally a major stumbling block for modern composers, even the established ones, but here Bavicchi had much success: he turned out a good, sustained adagio that was well planned and evinced a fine over-all curve.
Baldwin's Piano Quartet (1957) was a single, balanced movement in C-sharp. Solidly constructed, it had many varied sonorities and not a few Bartokian turns. I was a bit disturbed by the unrelievedly grim and anguished cerebration that the music betrays. I also question the wisdom of starting a quartet with such a lengthy duet for violin and 'cello (which almost guarantees that the flute, being cold, will enter out of tune) and of inserting such a long piano solo in the middle: both the players and the audience will feel cheated. I must single out Lawrence Lesser for his masterly handling of the 'cello part.
The first movement from Behrman's Quartet for Piano and Woodwinds (1957) betrayed a fondness for the high pinched notes of the flute. The composer can learn from this the ease with which the bottom half of the flute range can be smothered by other instruments. Structurally, the piece was too episodic, with many stops and starts, and it ended rather unconvincingly. More variety of articulation would have helped, too: it was almost all brittle staccato, with no really lyrical phrases.
Stephen Addiss '57 contributed an optimistic little Allegro for Woodwind Quartet (1957). Based on a Brahmsian "ladder motive," it proved attractive enough, though rather monochromatic and pallid in effect.
Christian Wolff '56 perpetrated another bit of non-sense such as earlier concerts have led us to expect of him. This time it was Duo for Violins (1951). The two fidlers were restricted to three consecutive semitones--D, D-sharp, and E-from which a maximum of six different sounds can be extracted; and for maybe a quarter of an hour they sawed back and forth on these same notes. There are at least three legitimate reactions on the listener's part: (1) he can try to stifle his snickers or laugh outright; (2) he can lapse into an utterly numbed state, as though packed in ice; or (3) he can get up and leave. Anyone who takes this stuff seriously is being hood-winked.
Nor was this all. Wolff along with Frederic Rzewski '58 then appeared as composer-performers in an Invention for Two Pianos (Mar. 27, 1957, 9:15-9:25 p.m.). They each put a sheet of paper with some jottings on the rack and proceeded to punch out a random series of notes vaguely reminiscent of the chicken-pecking school of composition. From time to time they stopped, glared at each other for a while, nodded, and then renewed the assault. I was ready to surrender after the first of these skirmishes. It is a shame that Rzewski, a fine pianist and perhaps the most gifted of the current undergraduate composers, would consent to slum in such a stunt.
The concert concluded with the late Anton Webern's Three Songs, Opus 23 (1934), excellently sung by Sarah Jane Smith. In them Webern applied his own refined pointillism to the atonal technique of Schonberg, with dubious success. I happen still to be old-fashioned enough to think that the human voice should not be asked to do everything an instrument can do. I find this disjunct kind of vocal writing, in which there are only angles instead of lines, highly ungrateful. The chief interest in these songs for me lies in rhythmic precision; and this in turn is best achieved by instruments, not the voice. The first and third songs seemed wholly unrewarding. I will admit that the second song has considerable merit; but even here the merit accrues not by means of the medium but in spite of it. I should like to hear this music with say, a clarinet playing the vocal part.