After Harvard's football victory Saturday afternoon, a dejected Dartmouth band played dejected marches for Dartmouth sympathizers in Carey Cage. A few hours later the band's listless spirit reappeared in Paine Hall, where the Bach Society Orchestra presented its first concert of the season. Only after the orchestra slept through its own performances of Bach's Suite for Orchestra No. 2 and Mozart's Symphony No. 33 did it display any enthusiasm or care for detail; then conductor Greg Biss led a more inspired performance of Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D major.
To attribute the tedium of the opening Suite solely to Bach would be unjust. The technical incompetence of the soloist, Miss Alice Kogan, a junior at Brandeis, and the fungoid dullness of the orchestral accompaniment are at least as much to blame. Because Miss Kogan persisted in breathing several times during each phrase with more than two notes, she fell behind the orchestra repeatedly. In the sections of episodic (i.e., filler) material which called for nonchalant technical display, her runs, arpeggios, and jumps simply lacked the facility to keep up with the orchestra.
But responsibility for the oppressive uniformity of the Bach rests more with Mr. Biss. Perhaps because of the inexperience of his players or the limitations of his soloist, he chose indifferent tempi for every movement. He took the second, for example, too slow for bounce and too fast for grace; the music just ambled along like an elephant. He also failed to provide variety in the orchestral dynamics to compensate for the restricted possibilities of the flute; most of the time, the notes did not seem to flow in any direction. Only in the fifth movement did the waters of dullness recede and a differentiated musical landscape rise. Thereafter the waters refluxed.
The performance of the Mozart would have benefitted greatly if the orchestra had tuned beforehand. As it was, the bellowing horns in the first movement and ululant oboe in the second covered most of the string's raggedness.
The changes of texture written into the score supplied more variation from mezzo-forte than did any conscious effort on the part of the conductor or orchestra. Broad contrasts between the tutti and the first violins' soli in the fourth movement remained unexploited. Phrases, instead of concluding, were simply cut off. Ultimately, after opting to repeat every section possible, Biss managed to rouse the orchestra to life--probably because the symphony was nearly over.
The whole spirit of the Schubert Symphony differed from that of the first half of the program. A sharp, solid attack began the first movement. The rich tuttis which followed seemed to involve Biss in the music more than anything had in the Bach and Mozart. In the third movement, for example, Biss seemed more at home demanding histrionics of the orchestra than he had been before demanding discipline of it. Again, perhaps because of the limitations of his orchestra, his Presto vivace barely passed allegro; but the overbearing horns and the soft sections that never got soft should have been remedied.
Even with this looseness at the joints, the Schubert as a grand gesture was accepted happily enough, and most of the large audience felt it got its money's worth. At the next concert, it will be interesting to see how a conductor with romantic proclivities develops a limited and largely inexperienced Bach Society Orchestra.