Bach Society Concert
The Bach Society and its gifted conductor, John Harbison, presented an enjoyable program for its final offering of the season. Including a beautiful Bach cantata and a piano concerto by Mozart, the concert was well received by a large audience in Piano Hall Sunday evening.
Bach's cantata No. 133 "Ich Freue Mich in Dir," was performed by the orchestra and a small vocal ensemble. Under Harbison's forceful leadership, the instrumentalists consistently produced a luminous full-bodied tone. A highlight was provided by the sensitive oboe and continuo accompaniment to the contralto's aria; it had the cohesiveness of chamber music at its finest.
Vocally, the performance did not go as well. Though Nancy Shelton's lower register was solid and assured, her soprano was far too insecure on the high notes to make her long and beautiful aria really affecting. On the other hand, the low notes of the contralto aria were the ones that gave Barbara Blanchard the most trouble; perhaps a reversal of the parts might have benefitted both ladies. In the incisive opening chorus and the stirring chorale at the work's close, the small chorus proved to be simply too small. One can appreciate Harbison's attempt to scale down a reading of a Bach cantata but, nonetheless, the chorus must be large enough to be heard.
Two shorter works, Hindemith's "Five Pieces for Orchestra," Op. 44 and Scarlatti's "Sonata a Quattro" in d minor, followed the Bach. The fast parts of both these compositions were well handled by the orchestra. Yet, a more expressive and tender approach seemed in order for the slower Hindemith pieces while more majesty could have been suggested in the second movement of the Baroque "Sonata." The disappointment in these passages seemed to be due to an incomplete understanding of the music on Harbison's part. He continued to emphasize rhythmic vigor when the works really required more attention to the fastidious arching of each phrase.
Mozart's glorious Piano Concerto in G, K. 453, featured Edgar Murray '60 as the soloist. Though he phrased with style and intelligence, his lacklustre tone failed to bring to life many of his good musical ideas. In the third movement, however, his performance brightened considerably and he handled the variations accurately and vigorously.
The orchestral introductions were done with distinction; their sound was full-bodied, their phrasing, sensitive and their spirit, compelling. While accompanying Murray however, the orchestra made some surprisingly shaggy entrances and, at times, Harbison's more grandiose conception of the work resulted in the orchestra's drowning out Murray's playing. This imbalance and inaccuracy on the orchestra's part disappeared in the last movement when it joined the pianist in a vibrant performance of the finale--a fitting close to an excellent concert.