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Festival of Harvard Composers and Harvard-Radcliffe Orch.

The Music Box

By Lawrence R. Casler

Sunday night, the second annual Festival of Harvard Composers presented six works in a variety of forms and styles. I found Allen Sapp's Eight Songs to Texts by Robert Herrick the most appealing part of the program. The music not only established an appropriate mood for each poem, but also vividly illustrated their meanings. I don't think I'll ever be able to read "The Curse" again without thinking of Sapp's terrifying, almost screaming treatment of the opening words. Soprano Jean Lunn fully realized the emotional possibilities of the songs, and adjusted her tone quality, as well as her diction and dynamics, to the dramatic requirements of each piece.

Many student practitioners of twelve-tone music pervert it to either intellectual hogwash or emotional hash. But Paul Knudson, in his Lyric Suite, produced a series of diversified, well-calculated effects ranging from desolation to jaunty self-confidence. And a little ditty by Christian Wolff, For Piano II, was notable for its extremely disjointed phrases, its bare, unornamented texture, and its utilization of the piano's percussive sonorities. On Monday night, Joel Mandelbaum's Piano Concerto in A received its premiere performance. Mandelbaum conducted the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and Ann Besser, to whom the work was dedicated, was soloist. Its sonata form in the first movement and its frequent reduction of the piano to orchestra, place it more or less in the classical tradition. But the concerto is far from being dry or old fashioned. The published, varied orchestration (somewhat marred by slips in the performance) does not shy away from Romantic lushness in developing the broad melodic line which opens the first movement. And there are passages of absolute clarity, such as the unaccompanied unison of piano and plucked celli, for purposes of contrast or emphasis. The third movement is a clever seven-part rondo, the theme of which is an anagrammatic treatment of Miss Besser's name ("S" being the German designation for E flat, and "R" representing rc, or D). The theme appears in several guises, bandied about by piano and orchestra until the powerful inevitable climax. While the piano part does not stand out brilliantly from its orchestral context, it still needs a virtuoso performance. Miss Besser, both technically and interpretively, gave it just that.

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