Once every two or three years there comes a concert so thrilling in content, so brilliant in execution, that it makes the entire season memorable. Such a concert was heard by the large audience in Sanders Theatre Friday night. The occasion: a premature salute to Ralph Vaughan Williams for his eightieth birthday (he won't be eighty until October 12.)
G. Wallace Woodworth added another to his long list of triumphs with the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society. The singing was by turns intimate, exuberant, and uplifting as the chorus presented a richly varied sample of Vaughan Williams' output--generally acknowledged to be the outstanding choral literature of the Twentieth Century. Only a first rate ensemble can tackle the contrapuntal windings of a work like "Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge" and project each voice distinctly while preserving purity of tone. Mr. Woodworth's group did exactly that, and more--it demonstrated throughout the long, arduous program a vibrant spirit often lacking in professional organizations.
After intermission, the chorus was joined by the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. The "Serenade to Music," with the text from Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," demonstrated Vaughan Williams' great ability in fitting music to words. The gradual crescendo and accelerando that begins at the words "Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn," were vivid without being garish, effective without artificiality. And there were many other moments of similar dramatic unity.
The closing work, a stupendous Fantasia on the Old 104th Psalm Tune for piano, chorus, and orchestra, should quiet once and for all those critics who call Vaughan's Williams' music austere. This is virtuoso piece with colorful orchestral effects and dramatic abandon for all concerned. The performers, supposedly the largest assemblage of musicians in Sanders Theatre's history, sounded truly jubilant. The final "Prayse ye the Lorde's name," sung fortissimo with cymbals and brass blaring in the orchestra, drew cheers even before the theatre had stopped reverberating. Richard Sogg '52, deserves special credit for his energetic playing of the exacting, and exhausting, piano part.
Of course, the concert was not perfect. Any undertaking of such scope is bound to have minor flaws. Some of the soloists in the "Serenade to Music" were barely audible; the attacks in the "Fantasia" were not always as precise as they should have been. Still, there were enough outstanding moments to make the Vaughan Williams Concert one that will be remembered for a long time.