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Listening to the Bach Society Concert, one might have recalled Rossini's wry remark about Wagner: "He has his brilliant moments, yes--and his dull quarters of an hour." Yet the orchestra's successes, as surely as Tannhauser's, more than compensated for the generous lapses in between.
Unlike his recent predecessors, conductor Jack Jackson acknowledges the importance of performing rarely-heard early works. Friday's program began with the Sixth Suite of the Banchetto Musicale (1617) by Hermann Schein, a significant but neglected forerunner of Heinrich Schutz. The Suite, consisting of five stately dances, emerged slightly Stokowskified; an excessive number of strings, plus modern oboes and timpani, produced a far richer sound than their Baroque counterparts. And one could make a nice chorale out of the notes missed by the brass (an off night for them generally). But no matter; this was charming music, realized with spirit, and it is promising to find Jackson venturing into unrecorded repertory.
The orchestra followed the Schein with Bach's D major Suite--cleverly illustrating the evolution of derived dance forms. Bach ambitiously divides his instruments into three groups; trumpets (3) and timpani, oboes (3) and bassoon, and strings and continuo, giving to each both entire sections and incidental passages, bounded by two movements in unison. Jackson's approach emphasized accents and pulse rather than singing line; he propelled all but the ponderous Overture quite effectively. Solo playing varied from highly impressive (the oboes in the second Bouree) to characterless (the strings in the Trio).
Beethoven combines Haydnesque trickery with his own discreet innovations in the First Symphony. However, both humor and novelty escaped notice in Friday's performance. We did discover that the Bach Society can play very well when it wishes, as in the final Allegro, and also rather aimlessly, as in the shapeless, hurried Andante (which exposed the unpolished second violins).
This would be a far finer group if it would take itself seriously as a chamber orchestra. Its nucleus seems solid, especially the flutes, oboes, and several stands of strings. The remaining "passengers," which impede both precision and morale, should either rehearse more frequently or be eliminated. Also, strengths of both musicians and conductor would be best revealed in lively, small scale works. Fen it, was the exciting, soloistic sections that gained the audience's enthusiasm Friday night.
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