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Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra gives mixed performance





Directed by James Yannatos.

Works by Bernstein and Prokofiev.

Hugh Hinton, piano.

Sanders Theater, Friday, March 3.

Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.


THE LAST FEW TIMES I'VE HEARD the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra perform, I've left Sanders Theater with nearly identical impressions. James Yannatos' troupe has an exquisite high strings section, perhaps the equal of the renowned Boston Symphony's. The percussion section provides spirited support; Yannatos likes to include fiery, rhythmic music which gives them a chance to shine. Furthermore, Yannatos tends to showcase young, spirited soloists -- the Harvard community seems to have no shortage of them -- who invariably respond outstandingly to the most difficult assignments. The woodwinds and brass are uneven, sometimes shining brightly, sometimes failing dismally. And the lower strings (including the violas, celli, and double basses) consistently come off as distinctly below average.

Friday night's concert consisted of Bernstein's "Overture to Candide", which preceded Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 26 and Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Op. 100. Talented Harvard junior Hugh Hinton made the most of an almost completely inaccessible work. Prokofiev cannot fully be to blame for the lack of impact of this performance, despite the extremely poor piano orchestration (most of the first movement resides in the lower half of the keyboard, unsuccessfully competing against loud orchestra passages). Perhaps a closely miked piano would make for an enjoyable recording -- from the balcony of Sanders virtually nothing could be discerned.

Hinton's performance, however, was truly remarkable. His easy, relaxed motions brought forth what melody there was in the second movement while carefully avoiding overstatement. The upper register of the grand piano blended nicely with the HRO's shimmering strings. When volume was necessary, however, Hinton's technique failed to deliver. Some minor ensemble problems marred the final movement, although Hinton's talent served to minimize them. All in all, his was a virtuoso performance deserving of the highest praise.

The performance of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, which closed the concert, was altogether better. The entire group responded industriously to Yannatos' andante tempo in the first movement. The elaborate second movement (Allegro marcato) was also beautiful; the brass and woodwind sections gave a sterling rendition of the memorable choral motif. All the intonation, phrasings, and humor of this movement were carefully and successfully brought off. Kudos in particular go to the clarinet section, which overcame technical difficulties at intermission and played without a hitch in the second half, and to the nimble percussionists, who amongst them had to play some nine or ten different instruments.

The evening opened with the Candide overture, which Yannatos took slowly. An out-of-tune drum marred the performance, which was otherwise quite pleasant. A strong brass showing and impeccable inter-sectional dialogue brought the pace to its frenzied, jubilant finish.