When the Harvard Glee Club puts together a concert, it builds on a rock-solid foundation--tradition. Since the turn of the century when it was billed as America's leading male chorus, its footing has slipped a little, but it has become a symbol of undergraduate spirit as well as the standard bearer of varsity choral singing. Last Friday evening's concert glowed all over with a warm sense of nostalgia and not infrequently caught fire with the best that 100 years of singing has to offer.
The Glee Club's sound, when broken down by sections, is a bit uneven. In particular it lacks a bass section with the rich, grounded sound found, for instance, in Orthodox liturgical choirs. The shallowness of sound and the noticable failure at the "Many Brave Hearts are Asleep in the Deep" bottom of the range are most likely the direct consequences of youth and the luck of the draw, since the club depends on an uncertain pool of transient talent. As for baritones, director Elliot Forbes seems to have struck a rich vein since the section contains at least three men capable of pleasing solo presentations. The had on the whole a good sound, but the second tenors (an imperious breed of specialists as difficult to find as second fiddles) were not a match for the firsts in quality. The result was a slight imbalance and loss of clarity in the inner voices.
The performance exhibited the meticulous preparation that one expects from the Glee Club. Forbes is a conscientious conductor and he shapes dynamics, attack, and tone quality to create beautiful and exciting effects. In the motets by contemporary composer Rev. Russell Woolen which opened the program, Forbes drew out a line that repeatedly swelled and subsided. The effect reflects the performance practice of traditional Gregorian Chant and adds a physical dimension to the musical sensations.
The "Chanson a Boire" by Francis Poulenc, dedicated to the Glee Club in 1922, was a spirited piece that ended with a hilarious barnyard of beeps, cackles, and swoops.
Soloists played an important role in the evening, and especially in the group of folk songs and spirituals that closed the second third of the concert. James Jones, baritone, once again stood out for the sheer professionalism of his performance. There was, however, a certain unaccustomed tightness in his production which did not, in the end, mar the overall effect. Also featured were Allan Haley, tenor, Donald Meaders, baritone. Martin Kessler, baritone, an excellent sextet in Webbe's "Glorious Appollo," and Phil Kelsey doing several prodigious "swoops" in the Poulenc.
Excitement ruled both the performers and the audience. It was a small group by Sanders standards, but thick with sons of the Glee Club. That accounts for loud outbursts between the numbers and for the sing-along when they inevitably came to the Harvard songs.