Review: BachSoc’s Season Premiere a Success

Bach Society Orchestra

Paine Hall, October 31

Conducted by Alexander S. Misono ’04

The Bach Society Orchestra kicked off its first performance of the season Friday night with the highly experimental “Moz-Art à la Haydn” by Alfred Schnittke. While the piece’s eerie qualities were fitting for the concert’s Halloween date, the reduced ensemble did not seem fully at ease with this foray onto new ground. The piece—designed to be as much for visual as for aural effect—began with discordant melodies played on a dark stage, then evolved into fragments of Mozart and Haydn themes coupled with choreographed movement of the players onstage between the stands.

Soloists Ian K. Goh ’06 and Lisa A. Park ’06 took command of the piece upon their entrance. Goh’s confident attack of the melodies, reflected in a rich, solid tone, played off well against Park’s sonorous, elegant performance and soaring sounds. The ensemble, which was feathery and lacking in confidence, unfortunately was not up to the soloists’ level—probably because they had to deal with choreography in addition to their playing. Hats off to conductor Alexander S. Misono ’04 for his willingness to engage in artistic experimentation, but I breathed a sigh of relief as the stage lights dimmed and the music faded out as shakily as it came in.

The highlight of the evening was Chopin’s KlavierKonzert Nr. 2, which featured guest artist Ya-Fei Chuang on piano. Chuang, who has appeared with various American and European orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, lived up to her reputation with her sensitive interpretations. Chuang’s musicality was evident in her perceptive, pristine playing that sang with an exquisite sense of melody and insightful interpretation. Onstage, Chuang was musical even when not playing, as her body swayed and danced with the orchestral accompaniment. The BachSoc really came through in this piece with a rich sound and excellent dynamic interpretation throughout. Even with a star soloist on stage, the orchestra excelled as a presence and was undaunted by the difficult task that it undertook. The second movement, Larghetto, deserves special mention for Chuang’s touching melodies, supported by the orchestra’s delicate and appropriate harmonies.

In a piece that showed off the orchestra’s full abilities, Haydn’s Symphonie Nr. 88 G-Dur “Letter V” was played with unique flair. Each movement displayed singular flavor and strength of distinctive interpretation. Although I was initially skeptical of the orchestra’s unusual positioning of players for this piece—violins on the outside and violas and cellos on the inside—the result was a relatively harmonic sound. The orientation of the players particularly served to showcase the orchestra’s excellent cello section, headed by Michelle T. Young ’04. However, I had trouble hearing the second violins because of a stage left position which resulted in their being directed towards the back of the stage and away from the audience.

In terms of the piece itself, the Largo was particularly well-played, with the winds, brass, and strings producing a wonderful coherence; the cellos carried off the honors, with strong full tones that exploited the piece’s melodic qualities. The ending movement, Allegro con spirito, displayed excellent spiccato work by all of the ensemble and furnished the piece with a truly robust finish.

Overall, BachSoc exhibited a superior command of the classical genre, providing a delightful musical experience that deserves repetition. Congratulations to conductor Misono and concertmaster Goh for a truly solid program and a propitious season beginning.

—Crimson Arts critic Mildred M. Yuan can be reached at yuan@fas.harvard.edu.