Christ Triumphs with Bach Soc
Bach Society Orchestra conductor Evan Christ Sanders Theatre April 10
Genius and passion. To end an artistic endeavor of any sort with the intent and feeling that one had in its beginning represents the greatest expression of both. The Bach Society Orchestra's final concert of the season contained just such a note of finality. Conductor Evan Christ concluded his BSO career Saturday night, replete with the show-stopping presence of world-class composer and conductor Alan Hovahness and a coterie of soloists. Christ will conduct his thesis work May 10th, but for all intents and purposes, this nearly flawless concert was his performing swan-song.
The concert opened with a excellent performance of Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto. The BSO lived up to the critical standards set by Pablo Casals' legendary recordings with the help of professional soloists trumpeter Richard Giangiulo, flautist Richard Soule, oboist Barbara LaFitte and violinist Lynn Chang '75.
The strings, though overly soft in the allegro, carried through their crescendos and decrescendos with professional ease. Chang and LaFitte offered particularly strong performances, but Soule seemed to fade in and out of the solo quartet and Gianguilo made some rather audible mistakes, failing in four different spots to sustain the end of his solo the full length of the note. The final movement suffered from the meek entry of the strings and an overquick temp. But the allegro assai redeemed the piece, with oboe, flute, and violin soloists maintaining a whispering rapport.
Hovahness's Concerto No.8 for Orchestra and his "Prayer of St. Gregory" were accentuated in their grandeur by the presence of their creator. Batonless, the octagenarian composer himself conducted the former work. The orchestra, which seems at its best with the Baroque, carried the piece's modernist Eastern European theme well. Hovahness's Slavic exoticism recalls Mussorgsky and Stravinsky.
The deep throated brass added to the robustness characteristic of modernist Slavic composers, especially in the galloping allegro motto. The three fascinating andantes each brought back the dirge-like motif that characterized the first. In the latter two, the incorporation of bells over sometimes undulating, sometimes fluttering strings lent itself to the overall theme of exoticism.
Most striking was the piece's ending, seemingly stopping in mid-sentence, a denouement without a climax. The standing ovation received by Hovahness may have been out of love and deference for the man himself, but the piece alone, merited such exaltation.
Hovahness' hypnotic "Prayer of St. Gregory" was as etheral as its name implies. The strings shone, the seconds lending an undulating underpinning to the melody. In several spots 'hanging' half-decrescendos followed crescendos and were followed by a second crescendo, swelling and breathing, breathy and lively. A particularly animated Christ inhaled loudly and gestured extravagantly with the music, seemingly as enraptured as the audience.
Handel's "Water Music" continued the string of brilliant performances. Professional polish and good timing characterized the famous "Hornpipe," "Bouree" and "Minuet" sections, and the orchestra sustained its trills without fading. The strings and winds maintained a sublime rapport in the concluding "Allegro" and "Gigues."
Finishing the concert, the BSO showed a stamina rarely seen in amateur orchestra with Ginastera's "Variaciones concertantes in 12 Movements." Variations ranged from plaintive cello and bass solos with harp accompaniment to sudden Stravinsky-like explosions of cacophony that contained both smooth and abrasive wind solos. Violin passages reminiscent of Saint-Saens offered calms in the auditory storm.
Christ says that he plans take a year off after graduation to explore some "fundamentals." This concert offers evidence that he's already got them down. Much luck to Christ and many kudos on an excellent performance to his now-former BSO.