The Bach Society closed its season last night with a program commendably chosen and performed. Gregory Biss and the orchestra warmed up Allessandro Scarlatti's Concerto in F for Strings, a brief and harmonically simple piece culminating in a robust gigue.
In sharp contrast to Scarlatti's simplicity were the shifting moods of Gabriel Faure's Pellas and Melisande, composed as incidental music to the Maeterlinck dramatic poem. Biss achieved a good variety of sonorities in the four richly orchestrated movements. In the Prelude the orchestra sounded rich and as one unit; at other times, as in the second movement, subdued violins contrasted sharply with pizzicati in the celli and wood-wind solos. The dance-like quality attained in the third movement was excellent. The music lost direction, however, in the Marche Funebre, when Biss had to struggle to keep the dotted rhythms under control.
The orchestra struck a humorous note with the Three Little Little Pieces of Mark DeVoto '61. In the first, very brief, piece, one anxiously awaited the entrance of the guitar player--who obliged with one strain at the very end of the movement. In the second, the sole twelve-tone piece, pizzicato strings, harp and per cussion executed difficult rhythms gracefully if not perfectly. At the end of the third piece, a dirge with an ostinato bass, the orchestra turned into a chorus and sang the final chord. Happily, Biss repeated the performance for an amused audience.
The musical highlight of the evening was Ursula Oppens' fine performance of the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto. Miss Oppens' command of the instrument is now familiar to Cambridge audiences; her phrasing last night was beautiful, revealing a through understanding of the music. Only occasionally did exaggerated rubato obscure a cadence or mar an elision. Her musicianship showed through especially in the pedalling of the second movement and throughout the cadenza of the first. The orchestra, despite an irresistable tendency to rush, supported her quite well. The soloist herself took command when the Adagio turned into an Andante in restoring the original tempo.
Mr. Biss will have the Bach Society again next year. The experience he has gained, combined with an early campaign for more and better strings earlier in the season, will assure another fine year.