The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, it is now becoming apparent, is a fearless organization. A program of Brahms, Honegger, (not to mention David Lewin '54) would seem a formidable one, indeed, but the HRO proved last night that it can cope successfully with just about anything. Hubris, I am afraid, often goes unpunished these days.
Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in F, Donald Francis Tovey has demonstrated, is not only the composer's most romantic and picturesque work, but also his most technically challenging one. That the HRO even attempted to play the piece shows to my mind considerable bravura; that they also performed it--and performed it well--is really quite phenomenal.
Conductor Michael Senturia '58, maintained a brisk and active pace throughout (certain of his tempi, particularly in the first movement, approached those of the demonic Fritz Reiner). If the symphony as a whole seemed to lack a unity of dramatic conception--only the final allegro was convincingly cohesive--individual sections of it were performed with real distinction. The faultless intonation of the orchestra's winds (the first desk flute and clarinet merit special attention), the resounding firmness of the brasses--all these are easily the equal of almost any professional orchestra. The strings were perhaps too eager to glow wtih romantic intensity, or what-ever; at any rate their tone was often thin, harsh, and somewhat forced. This did not, however, diminish Mr. Senturia's achievement; the pastoral plainness of the second movement and the terse drama of the fourth were presented forcefully and with great care.
The Honegger of the evening is a late and little-known Concerto da Camera for flute, English horn and strings. Unlike the tense and rigid bombast of his earlier works (notably the symphonies and the oratorios), the concerto is a relaxed, graceful, spacious and thoroughly un-neurotic work. The mood is pastoral but placid--suggesting, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, not an unkempt meadow but a well-rolled English lawn.
The soloists wer the winners of this year's HRO-sponsored concerto, Ellen Friedman '63 (flute), and Barbara Cohen '63 (English horn). Both ladies are excellent instrumentalists, and their clear, rippling tones flowed quietly over the lawn. The HRO strings here were at their best; under Mr. Senturia's precise and animated direction, they showed themselves subdued but very competent. The intonation was clear throughout, the phrasing deft and unobtrusive.
The concert opened with the delayed World Premiere of Junior Fellow David Lewin's Essay on a Subject of Webern for chamber orchestra. The work is derived from the second of Webern's Op. 28 string quartet; but its material is wholly original--the melodic declaration often seems closer to the manner of Arnold Schoenberg. Mr. Lewin has employed considerable economy in composition, and the piece is concise, clear and very pleasing; the wind writing, in particular, shows considerable delicacy and precision. Mr. Senturia and his orchestra brought to the work the same assurance and competence that marked the entire program; their flowing performance complemented the Essay. They really can be quite wonderful, indeed.