Bach Society Orchestra
Whenever the Bach Society Orchestra performs, it leaves an ambiguous impression: it is never clear whether it is a chamber group, a small symphony orchestra, or simply a label under which disparate musical activities take place. The first half of last Saturday's concert ranged from Beethoven's Coriolanus Overture to the same composer's Wind Octet, Opus 103. Conductor Daniel Hathaway kept the orchestra precisely together throughout Coriolanus, but many of the opportunities for playing back and forth between parts were muffed. He might have had better luck at a faster tempo. However, the orchestra's total sound was impressively rich, exceeding what I would have expected from a comparatively small group.
The most delightful piece on the program (and also that best suited to the talents of the Bach Society) was Couperin's Le Parnasse ou l'apotheose de Corelli. Hathaway played his own harpsichord part, waving a free hand whenever possible at the small group on either side. He seemed caught in the middle in more than one way, however, since the violins and cellos often disagreed on the tempo, the one rushing ahead of Hathaway and the other lagging behind. For the rest the performance was superb--the parts all meshed and precision triumphed over muddle. The programmatic aspect of the music (each movement represents a scene, such as the awakening of Corelli by the muses) was forthrightly but tastefully exploited, creating an atmosphere without making the piece into some kind of caged antique beast.
The program closed with Haydn's Symphony No. 82 (L'ours). This attractive symphony, complete with a warlike minuet and growls in the last movement, was well handled. The violins blossomed, especially at the beginning of the Allegretto, producing a brilliant, focussed sound. The rest of the strings were almost equally effective, if one overlooks murky cello noises in certain fast passages.
The performance was rhythmically vital from the beginning, and built steadily to the end. Hathaway did seem to be rushing the orchestra at many phrase-endings, providing no relaxation or feeling of settling before continuing, but still the Haydn was a success. The entire concert was a credit to the ability and versatility of the Bach Society.