The formation of a University wind ensemble apart from the Harvard Band was a wise move, as the Harvard Wind Ensemble's first concert made very clear in the quality of the players it presented. But the concert also showed that the group has yet to become an integrated ensemble that holds faithfully to serious (and also good) music.
What most marred the group's performance was quite simple: it played too loud too often, and so muffled not only the subtleties of the music's dynamics, but also some of the instruments' varied sonorities. Although Conductor James Walker's baton pattern was a clear one, the players hardly followed it. Entrances and rhythmic patterns were consistently ragged, especially in slow passages. Yet the ensemble brought out considerable color and exuberance and the solo lines indicated real promise for the group.
The Ensemble naturally had trouble programming music consistently worth hearing, for the medium's traditional association with band music has laid it open to dull, unadventurous treatment. Gordon Jacob, for instance, may have called his 1928 piece for winds An Original Suite, but I don't know who he thought he was kidding even then. Peter Mennin likewise sticks by an outworn style of folksy nostalgia in his 1951 Canzona. Vaughan Williams' Toccata Martiale, on the other hand, succeeds because his use of national flavor is tied to a distinct personal idiom, and the ensemble fortunately rallied its coordination for the piece. It did so as well for William Bergsma's March with Trumpets, a work which at least in places has a style of its own.
But what actually made the concert worth attending was two Serenades, the No. 10 of Mozart and a surprisingly refreshing one by the 16-year-old Richard Strauss. The Rondo of the Mozart and the bubbling lines of the Strauss were light and quite unforced, but the group held together only erratically. Forging players into a skillful ensemble is a slow and difficult process, especially at a concert in the Leverett Courtyard; possibly this group needs from Walker more tyrannical direction.