Friday night at Sanders
No one can accuse Luise Vosgerchian of lack of feel-spring of the Harvard Music Department, surely she is the dynamic spark. Yet her performance of Kirchner's Concerto No.2 (1963) with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra conducted by the composer was so dry, that the New England premiere of this magnificent work failed to capture on of its essential qualities.
Like his first Concerto, Kirchner's second is a highly evocative, emotionally-charged piece to be played with as much delicacy and sentiment as power and assertion. Except for one bar specifically marked "Lyrically," all that emerged from the piano Friday night was forceful, if controlled, declamation. The delicious orchestration, the fascinating, semi-indeterminate transition between the two movements, and the exquisite use of the celeste to close the composition could not compensate for the solid but harsh interpretation of the soloist.
In the orchestra, both hornists and bassoonists had a bad night; the strings had trouble with the intricate rhythms and high harmonics; and concertmistress Marilyn Malpass muffed her solo badly. Nevertheless, ensemble was generally excellent in the wind and (hired) percussion sections and the total effect of the performance was one of strength and passion. In the piano, every note was in its proper place and had been carefully thought out. But the music was not there: the romantic element was missing.
The composer's romantic temperament asserted itself more freely in the other works on the program, which he also conducted. His Mozart Symphony No. 40 exulted with bravura, mystery, and finesse, focusing on large forms, rather than individual phrases. The mood was thus more consistent, but some of the lines and ends of phrases got lost, creating an occasional lack of definition within small sections.
The HRO's Mozart is always under-rehearsed. Bowing discrepancies and half-forgotten repeats are the intonation, balance, etc-the HRO acquitted itself admirably.
Kirchner's Brahms was even more impressive. From the very beginning of the great Fourth Symphony, the conductor proved himself a master of nuance, varying his tempos flexibly. The tragic Andante moderato, with its famous Phrygian modality, was a gem. Opening furiously, the third movement, Allegro giocoso, joked only in its use of the triangle. The concluding Passacaglia, Allegro energico e passionato, was just that.
Sectional string rehearsals might have cleared up more of the high notes, though the Brahms actually received more rehearsal time than either of the other two works-due in part to Miss Vosgerchian's recent illness. All in all its performance by the HRO can only be called remarkable.
An equally satisfying performance of the Kirchner Second Concerto is yet to come. Judging by the score, and his performance of the First many years ago (recorded with Mitropolous conducting on Columbia), Kirchner himself would seem the ideal choice for soloist.