New works by six Harvard composers provided an evening of the most exciting kind of listening last Wednesday in Paine Hall. Before giving my impression of the individual works, however, I must advance a criticism of this otherwise praiseworthy Music Club presentation. It seems to me that in certain instances the audience could have expected a higher standard of performance than it was given. It is hard enough to gain a clear impression of a modern work at first hearing and a faulty performance makes it virtually impossible. Joel Mandelbaum's songs were given a wholly inadequate performance and the Sonata of Peter Westergaard suffered from a listless rendition of the violin part.
The most striking work of the evening was the Piano Sonata in G which received its first public performance by the composer, Paul Des Marais, instructor in music. The breadth of development in the opening movement is what impressed me first. Here is a modern composer who does not strip his form to its barest outlines. The piano is treated in almost orchestral terms, yielding in quick succession highly contrasting effects of sonority, dynamics, and range. The opening theme of the first movement is violent and harsh but it soon alternates with some warmly expressive passages that reminded me of Brahms. The final Largamente was problematic, coming, as it did, after two straight-forward and easily communicative movements. In what seemed an endlessly repetitious opening figuration with gradually heightening harmonic tension, Mr. Des Marais seems to attempt an effect of the mystique. The harmonies grow harsher and harsher, and, after a mordant faster section, culminate in an extremely dissonant ending. Mr. Des Mania's experiment here is one of extended cumulative tension within one movement. I far one, did not find the experience wholly credible. But I look forward to a better appreciation of it after a few rehearings.
Piano Piece by Phoebe Wood seemed logically constructed, though it did not make much of a point to me (it was heard to its disadvantage immediately after the Des Marais). I found Stuart Feder's Sonatina Movement an attractive, waltz like number. The two movements performed from Mr. Wester guard's Violia Sonata impressed me as pleasant and skillfully conceived.
Of the songs I thought Mr. Mandelbaum's settings of Psalms Nos. 139 and 140 for mezzo-soprano and cello showed the greatest freedom in the handling of a vocal line. He took excellent advantage of these highly dramatic texts and displayed an appropriate variety of moods while maintaining a stylistic unity with in the pair. Mr. Feder's settings showed a greater simplicity, more of a desire to render the texts than to interpret them. Yet his songs were to from colorless, I especially enjoyed the mock heroic piano recite after the Found liner. "And I would rather have my sweet... Than de high deeds in Run gray..."