The Bach Society
At Pane Hall last Sunday night
The Bach Society concert Sunday evening in Paine Hall began with a croak from the horn. The first piece on the program was Webern's arrangement of the Ricercare of Bach's Musical Offering, and the theme of Frederick of Prussia's is first stated by the horn alone; admittedly it is a dirty trick to play on the unfortunate hornist, but it is a common enough practice, and this particular player was not up to it. He also succeeded in spoiling a large part of the orchestral accompaniment to the soprano in the Beethoven aria Primo amore, piacer del ciel. In the second half of the minuet in Haydn's Symphony No. 14, he not only had trouble in playing the correct intervals, but also played sharps where they were not written.
Little technical errors abounded that night. Aside from the wretched hornist, there was the first clarinetist who appeared to be having trouble getting his instrument to speak in the slow movement of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1, somewhat disrupting the serene beauty of the movement. There were strings who had intonation difficulties occasionally throughout, and rhythm troubles in both Beethoven works. At one point in the aria, the dramatic effect of what was supposed to be a Grand Pause was lost in the scraping of some disoriented violist or 'cellist.
Then there was David Borden's aria for soprano and orchestra on Dylan Thomas's Force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age. There was no clear relationship between the music and the words. The poem invokes a myriad of very different images: plant metabolism, evaporation, the action of tide and wind, and time, the dripping of blood and the hanging of a man. The music pounded along its atonal course without proper variation in color for the different verses. Borden did demonstrate his sensitivity to the poem, once, with his treatment of the reiterated "And I am dumb ..." lament, but only there.
After intermission, Isaiah Jackson, who will be director of the Bach Society next year, came to the podium to lead an exhilarating performance of the Haydn Symphony No. 14. Haydn is easy to do, and Jackson did it with an easy grace that bodes well for the future of the Society.
Finally, Ursula Oppens came and played Beethoven. She played him as he should be played, with the overall lightness that this last of the rococo concerti deserves (for although numbered the First, this is actually the second of Beethoven's piano concerti, and in the last three he had completely transcended the form as Mozart had left it), yet did not slight the brooding moments foretelling what dark depths would be revealed in the composer's later music. In other words, she achieved the difficult synthesis of rococo and romantic that is Beethoven's music.
The Bach Society is a spirited group. If they throw out a few of the less accomplished players, they will have an excellent season next year.