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Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra

The Music Box

By Bertram Baldwin

For their final concert of the season, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra presented an ambitious, well-balanced program of Handel, Bartok and Schubert. It was evident that a great deal of care and hard work had gone into the preparations for the concert, and there were many fine moments during the evening.

Yet it was all too apparent that, despite the generally high level of performance, there was very little of the excitement or festive feeling which should have been a part of a concert celebrating the 150th anniversary of the oldest orchestra in the world.

The only indications that this was a special evening were the novelty of a hierarchical list of patrons which appeared along with some excellent notes by Assistant Professor Allen D. Sapp in the program; and a dance (music by Marshard) which followed the concert. As for the concert itself--it was just another concert, and not the best of the year, for that matter.

The orchestra has fallen into an almost unvarying pattern of choosing programs consisting of one large work, which is just beyond its technical capabilities, and some smaller works which are easier to handle. They lavish time and attention on the big work, with varying degrees of injury to the lesser ones.

In Friday night's concert, the major work was Schubert's 7th Symphony, with a Bartok Dance Suite and a Handel Concerto for strings and double wind orchestra filling out the program. In the Bartok, conductor Attilio Poto's strong technique was invaluable to the orchestra as he guided the players through the rhythmic complexities of the work.

The Handel, on the other hand, suffered the typical fate of most of the Orchestra's "curtain raisers" in receiving a rather perfunctory performance, enlivened only at the end by the virtuosic oboe solos of Michael Palmer and Michael Senturia. For the remainder of the piece, the playing was accurate but not very energetic, and the antiphonal possibilities of the work were not explored.

The Schubert posed enormous technical difficulties which the musicians met heroically. The opening horn call was given without a flaw, and the entire performance showed the results of meticulous practice and rehearsing. The opening of the finale, in particular, gave promise of brilliance and exuberance.

It could not, however, be sustained throughout such a long work. Mr. Poto, in striving for rhythmic vitality, sacrificed the song-like quality which is the trademark of Schubert, and the grace which a more leisurely slow movement would have had. The brass section was not kept under control, with the result that in the coda of the first movement, for example, the returning theme was lost entirely.

The Orchestra's principal handicap, at this point, is not one of ability so much as one of time. Their concerts always seem to come just as they are mastering the technical aspects of a work, but just before they have had time to attack the musical problems.

Without discussing the merits or drawbacks of such an approach, it might be suggested that the Orchestra is not committed to any particular number of concerts a year, and both players and audiences might find it more rewarding to have fewer concerts, but those few better prepared. It is frustrating to the musicians, and no joy to the listeners, to allow a great symphony such as the Schubert 7th to receive a prosaic reading, when two weeks' more rehearsal would have permitted a more satisfying performance.

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