The Bach Society
GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL was a prodigal master, an adaptive musical fountainhead who composed vast quantities of epic choral dramas, superb operas, incidental and instrumental works. His creative fertility was so prodigious that his 97 volumes of autographs exceed the combined complete works of Bach and Beethoven. Although a contemporary of Corelli, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, and Telemann. Handel beggared their combined achievements with his limitless genius. Yet while the scope of Bach, Handel's only contemporary equal, is now fully grasped, the boundless wealth of Handel has been reduced to one or two operatic arias, a couple of organ concertos, the Water and Fireworks music, and the annual outrages upon the long suffering Messiah.
The Bach Society Orchestra's programming of two of the Opus 6 concerto grossi was a welcome step into the edifice of Handel's creations. The set of twelve concertos comprise the finest English instrumental music written until this century. There can be no doubt that Handel, although born in Saxony and raised on Italian opera, is a thoroughly English composer. He arrived in London during the interregnum left by the death of Purcell in 1695 and the first works of Thomas Arne twenty years later. By 1710 Handel had subsumed into his Italianate idiom the brilliant scoring, deep love for the English language, and unpretentious pietism which inform the greatest English music from Byrd, Tallis, and Purcell, to Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Britten.
THE BACH SOCIETY had considerable difficulties with the first of the concerto grossi, which was hampered by dynamic monotony, struggling second violins, inaudible violas, and a methodical trio of soloists. All of these problems unhappily converged in the second and fifth movements. Miss Lisa Sandow, the first solo violin, and Miss Ruth Rubinow, the solo cello, rivalled each other for tonal monotony and absolute abandonment of nuance. Miss Janet Packer, the second solo violin apparently sensed this lackluster playing and performed with considerable artistic concern. The second concerto, distinguished by a beautiful first movement, fared much better with Tison Street and Daniel Banner as solo violins, and Philip Moss as solo cello. Mr. Street, the concert-master, articulated several of his solo passages indistinctly and failed to impose stylistic unity on the often disorganized violin section. Mr. Moss and the entire violincello section distinguished themselves as the Orchestra's finest performers.
The opening work, Haydn's Symphony No. 83, was the evening's most enjoyable. With the exception of the demanding Andante, whose repeats could well have been omitted, the orchestra played with excellent ensemble, acceptable intonation, and gratifying vitality. Conductor John Adams maintained rapport with his musicians, shaping each passage with considerable sensitivity.
Methodical violin playing, too many moments of imprecise ensemble, and a lack of metrical relaxation, especially in detached quaver figures, severely qualified the final work, Mozart's Symphony No. 29. I think that this was primarily due to simple orchestral fatigue after an especially strenuous program. The Andante, however, was played with considerable feeling. The primary problems of the orchestra in this work and throughout the concert were essentially a lack of stylistic homogeneity within the violin section, insufficient attention to phrasing and a peculiar inability to play a genuine piano. Each of the orchestra's winds performed admirably. Mr. Adams tended to exaggerate accompaniment figures and often failed to convey a sense of relaxation to the ensemble, but was a gifted conductor nevertheless.
Despite several solvable problems, the Bach Society Orchestra is a delightful ensemble. Unpretentious, committed to an absolutely essential and shamefully neglected part of the orchestral repertoire, and capable of excellent work, the Society is unquestionably the equal of any musical organization at Harvard.