Bach Society Orchestra
At Paine Hall, last Friday.
The quality of Friday evening's Bach Society concert in Paine Hall ranged from bad to mediocre. Horn soloist Joel Kotin's silvery tone and sure techniqque almost raised Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto in E-flat to the level of excellence. But vacillating accompaniment from the orchestra, conducted by Andrew Schenck, and an intrinsically ordinary concerto, prevented even Kotin's performance from saving the program.
Schenck cannot be blamed for the worst performed number, Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto; it was led by Bentley Layton, next year's conductor of the orchestra. Bach scored the Sixth Brandenburg for a chamber orchestra: two violas, two gambas (played by 'celli), a solo cello, continuo and bass. In the first movement, all the instruments except continuo and bass supposedly take turns as soloists, and thereafter only the 'cello and violas play the solo lines. This distribution threw the heaviest burden on the performers in the ensemble least able to hear it. The 'cellos and violas had to struggle so hard and unsuccessfully) just to play the notes that there was no attempt at dynamic variety, let alone subtlety. At times, only Christine Atwood, string bass, and Larry Berman, continuo, seemed to keep the ensemble together.
To his credit, Layton did call for a change in loudness in the first movement; be occasionally tried to bring out a few of the obvious string lines. When that didn't work he had to revert just to keeping time. Happily, he did that efficiently, with a minimum of movement. One cannot really blame the overwhelming dullness of the performance on Layton: the speakers in this dialogue of instruments were unfortunately dumb. Hopefully, next year's concerts will show what he can do.
The Mozart hardly dazzled, either. As a result of perfunctory tuning, Kotin played the whole first movement flat; by the end, he had risen well above the average pitch around which the strings were scattered. The third movement, Rondo: Allegro vivace, didn't really suggest vivace. Every time the orchestra ventured away from the security of the main theme, it slowed down a little bit more.
Nevertheless, Kotin did play with fine tone, and miraculously avoided the hornists' occupational hazard: blurping. Schenck subordinated the orchestra nicely when it accompanied, so that the out-of-tune strings were not too painful. He brought the concerto to an appropriately pompous close.
Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances began the program and Wagner's Siegfried Idyll--finished it.