The program of last night's Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra concert showed the difference between musical bankruptcy and thematic economy. Shostakovich's Concerto for Violoncello deserves far less than it got (a very good performance from Pierre Fournier); it repeats monotonously to short themes that would have been cut even from a Hasty Pudding show.
Brahms' Symphony No. 1, on the other hand, reveals a new delight every time it is played. This time, I was particularly struck by the alternation between E major and E minor at the beginning of the second movement. The apparent indecision creates a delicious tension which is resolved into E major only when the oboe enters with its lyric solo. Shostakovich never tried such subtleties.
In playing the Shostakovich, Fournier never missed. Up high, his nearly faultless harmonics combined with the violins and bells to produce one of the delightful, but inconsequential, aural tricks in which the concerto abounded. His extended cadenza in the third movement lacked raw strength, but it was exquisite. Why he or conductor Henry Swoboda put their talents and the HRO's into this concerto is hard to understand.
(Incidentally, since the French horns are so often the objects of deserved criticism, to be just I must point out that last night, in the Shostakovich and in the Brahms, the horns were the best that I have heard in the HRO in two and a half years.)
The program began with Roberto Gerhard's Alegrias (a suite from the ballet Divertissement Flamencoco). It is tempting to dismiss this piece as one of the best warm-up exercises since Czerny, but that would not be entirely fair. Gerhard, a native of Catalonia, has written an incoherent suite but good ballet music, it contains some pleasant touches, as in the use of the piano. Since, however, the HRO lacks a corps de ballet, one wonders what Alegrias was doing on the program.
Alegrias and Shostakovich's Concerto could, happily, be forgotten in the second half of the program, when they were replaced by the Brahms. The Brahms would have been better if the orchestra had tuned before playing it, but it still justified Harvard's having its own symphony orchestra.