It must be the sign of a dawning epoch when Cambridge choruses abandon the booming solemnity of Latin and devote half a concert to music by twentieth century Americans, with daring words in the vernacular. Now it is always a riot when English is substituted for Latin in Cambridge, and Friday's Glee Club-Choral Society concert proved to be no exception. The concert put the glee back in the Glee Club and brought jolly laughter from the listeners.
The most licentious language, however, came from Rabelais. In translation, the Frenchman used no less than 66 verbs to describe what Diogenes did to his tub while his fellow Corinthians were preparing to defend their city against Phillip of Macedon. Not only did Diogenes frisk it, jumble it, shuffle it, and huddle it, but he towled it, bewrayed it and unbunged it as well. All this action (set to music by Elliot Carter) was described with great enthusiasm by a four-part men's chorus while the 'Cliffies sat on the sidelines. In obedience to the score, the men chanted much of the time in tricky dotted rhythms, with no notes. Rhythms provide the main musical interest of the piece, and the chorus, under Elliot Forbes's careful direction, handled them precisely. Thomas Gutheil, the narrator, pranced gaily about the stage as he recited his part; were it the good old days, he would have a long vaudeville career ahead of him.
The concert also featured the first East Coast performance of a cantata written last year by Randall Thompson, for mixed voiced, brass choir and harp. The second of the piece's three parts was pleasant; a lovely, smooth harp passage was answered softly by a muted trumpet and by the voices. "Blow up the trumpet in the new moon," the voices sang.
Elliot Forbes had obviously worked hard on dynamics for all the works on the program. In "Deutsches Magnificat," by Heinrich Schutz, he established a different mood for each phrase, and built up a gradual, carefully controlled crescendo for the piece's final cadence. Forbes made Hans Hassler's distressful, chromatic motet very convincing with sudden pianissimo phrases; the words were never blurred when the chorus sang softly.
Alas, could not the Radcliffe Choral Society scare up a healthier sounding soprano section? Not one strong voice was to be heard among the sopranos. It was impossible to decide whether they should sing louder, so they could be heard properly, or softer, so their wrong notes would disappear. One reason the modern pieces on the program sounded better was that their sopranos parts were not as difficult.