Bach Society Orchestra
at Paine Hall Saturday night
This was the concert the Harvard musical world has been waiting for. More than that of the Glee Club or even the HRO, it was slated to be the highlight of the concert season. John C. Adams is the most professional and professionally-minded student conductor Harvard has seen in half a dozen years. In addition he has won respect as a solo clarinetist and chamber musician. Daniel Troob, the excellent continuo-player in Adams's superb production of The Marriage of Figaro, was to team up with him again as the soloist in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23. One glance at the back of the program made it abundantly clear that Adams has accomplished a small coup d'etat in gathering so many of the community's best musicians.
Much of this well-advertised talent was in evidence Saturday night. Adams is a musician who knows what he wants. His conducting alternates between the subtle and the demonstrative, with a youthful tendency to exaggerate contrasts. In the Haydn Symphony No. 99 he turned sforzandi into Beethovenian Hammerschlage, while in Milhaud's La Creation du Monde the battery of percussion often overwhelmed the rest of the ensemble in periodic fits of exuberance.
Adams's rendering of Stravinsky's Danses Concertantes was his most successful effort of the evening. The neo-classic work struck a balance between the eighteenth Vs.twentieth-century polarity of the program, as well as between Adams's academic training and his modernistic bias. For Adams it was just the right combination of lyricism and efficiency.
A conductor, of course, is only as good as the members of his-orchestra, and to give complete credit one would have to name nearly every individual performer. It was an evening of soloists, especially in the much reduced ensembles of the Stravinsky and Milhaud. Violinist Tison Street and flutist Geoffrey Greenfield were outstanding in the Stranvinsky. The jazz-like Creation featured sensitive solos from 'cellist Philip Moss and saxophonist Hardin Matthews, as well as some sultry low-register flutter-tonguing by the two flutists. Oboists George Donner's Gershwin-like plaints creation actually predates Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris and high-register melody lines were models of sensitivity, control and stamina, Strangely, it was clarinetist Gary Gelber who received a special bow (for his flashy Benny Goodman virtuosity). Although Gelber was good, Donner was the hero of the evening.
In spite of all this, the evening was far from an overwhelming triumph. The Haydn and the Milhaud suffered from problems of balance; the brass and the percussion were the respective offenders. Intonation in the Haydn was poor. Accompaniment figures in the violas were almost polytonal, and in spite of stalwarts like Street, Lisa Sandow and Richard Hamm, the strings evinced the same raw amateur sound that has plagued the Bach Society for years. Only in the humor of the finale's coda did the work manage to come alive.
One could not help but noitice an element of vulgarity in Adams's treatment of the music. Both the Haydn and the Mozart lacked the classical elegance that is so important in works of that period. In the Milhaud Adams adopted a grinding, spread-kneed approach and a style of rhythmic emphasis that owed more to Motown than nineteen-twenties jazz.
The biggest disappointment of the evening was the Mozart piano concerto. In the Allegro the lower strings dragged terribly. The orchestra was constantly at odds with the soloist, overpowering him dynamically and struggling to arrive at a mutually conducive tempo.
The Mozart A major has always been a student warhorse, and we were all looking forward to this performance by supposedly mature, well-reputed musicians. At last someone would breathe life into it. But Daniel Troob's solo work was worse than amateur: it was unmusical. His percussive left hand rendered the right barely audible, and his playing was uneven, unphrased, overpedalled and sloppy.
If I did not respect Troob as a musician, his performance would not have been so appalling. But reputation is a funny thing, and word of mouth is apparently a bit a head of the ear. I hope it was nerves.