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May 07, 1969 - Image 2

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1969-05-07

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Page Two


Wednesdov. Mov 7.1~9


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The same

old song

As most students were cram-
ming for winter term exams, or,
rid of all that, were packing
parents' cars to flee this oasis,
Eugene Ormandy and his Phila-
delphia Orchestra came for the
thirty-fourth consecutive year
to participate in the Ann Arbor
May Festival.
Sponrsored by the venerable
and historic jniversity Musical
Society, the May Festival has
been a spring feature of the Ann
Arbor scene for 76 years. While
such tradition bestows honor
upon the May Festival's ad-
innistators and stirs nostalgia
among certain of the audience,
it hardly guarantees either
musical merit or, as the rather
poor attendance illustrated, any
special box-office lure.
TO be sure, certain illumina-
ting and moving musical .mo-
ments passed from the Hill stage
to the patient audience during
those five concerts (April 24-27Y,
but in toto this year's May Fes-
tival produced a queasy and
soporific deja vu feeling which ;
those music lovers in Ann Arbor
,who decided not to attend must
indeed have anticipated.
Certainly Gail Rector, presi-
dent of the University Musical
*Society, is a man dedicated to
musical excellence and he strives
-w to surmount rising costs and
maintain the finest selection of
guest artists for the Festival.
Sopranos Regine Crespin and
Maria Stader, mezzo-soprano
Joanna Simon, tenor Richard
Tucker, pianisti Hans Richter-
Haaser, and cellist Zara Nelsova
all! promised and, with certain
qualifications, produced per-
,' formancs of ,quality.
Yaet Mr. Rector is also a con-
servative man bound to past
choices, and though all indica-
tions-attendance, performance,
and even mail-point to the
problem, he continues to engage
Ormandy and the Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Orchestra
under Ormandy has been a
magic name to record buyers,
and they have been the best sell-
in orchestra in the land-but
then the Reader's Digest and
T.V. Guide are near the top of
the magazine market too.
The comparison is not unjust,
for while the Philadelphia Or-
chestra comprises an excellent
body of virtuoso musicians, the
head of that body, Eugene Or-
mandy, perhaps the only con-
ductor alive who can make Bach
sound, like the "Grand Canyon
Suite," lacks the meticulousness
and conceptual depth to elicit
from that orchestra perform-
ances of complete persuasive-
ness. When asked to communi-
cate music not as color but as
Idea, as in Mahler where music
becomes the medium of philo-
sophic expression, 0 r ma n d y
sounds as profound as a Presi-
dential address. Even the usual-
ly benign Harold Schonberg ad-
its that "there has been a
singular reluctance in musical
circles to admit him into the
ranks of the 'great conductors"
JAlthough Ap the fifties Or-
mandy produced many satisfy-
ing reercins, his Symphonic'
Fagtastiue or the orchestral
~ccompaniments .to Serkin's
eethov6n' concerti), he has in
the past years sounded increas-
ingly rhetorical, glassy,; and
,cushy. He seems to have become
the Joseph E.'Levine of the con-
'' cert world, and Columbia's spew-

ing out recordings etitled "Or-
mandy's Greatest Hits" is not
without significance. (Can you
imagine "Furtwangler's Greatest
Now an enormous market
exists for Ormandy's special
genius and flair, which snobbism
can only too easily denigrate,
but the University Musical So-
ciety's May Festival need not
be a continual outlet. The seri-
ous and sophisticated musical
community here does not find
Ormandy and the P.O; any spe-
cial, enduring attraction, and
to many the though of sitting
through five P.O. concerts in
four days would be like sitting
down to a five course dinner of
wedding cake. The general Ann
Arbor community and environs,
whom tge May Festival also
serves, do not, as attendance at-
tests, turn out in sufficient num-
To this problem of properly
assessing the audience should
be added the limitations of Or-
mandy's repertoire, the para-
meters pretty much being the
post-romantic and early mod-
ern composers. For how many
people in Ann Arbor are Debus-
sy's "La Mer" or "Images,"
Resphigi's "Pines or Rome," or
Prokofiev's "Classical" Sym-
phony, still really compelling
reasons to attend a concert.
A spring festival of music can
only be commended and sup-
ported, but it would be infinitely
more exciting, meaningful, and
appropriate if the University
Musical Society took the courage
and initiative to alter its format
when traditions prove stultify-
Following the National An-
them (were those snare-drum
rolls I heard, or jets?, Or-
mandy opened the May Festival
with a performance of Prokof-
iev's "Classical" Symphony that
was commendable for a certain
raw precision but which showed
too erratic a tempo to truly pin-
point the satire of the Lar-
A highly colorful and evoca-
tive, if a bit sonically thick ren-
dition of "Iberia" followed.
Ormandy, of course, will never
go as far as Boulez in correct-
ing that bleary, Monet-reson-
ating Impressionism, label that
has attached itself to Debussy.
It is the precision and specificity
in Debussy, rather than the
blend of color, that offers spe-
cial fascination. Notice for in-
stance the way the tambourine
(the emblem for street sounds)
serves as the bridge into "Per-
fumes of the Night," the second
movement; it soon disappears
and then is the first harbinger
of the coming morning, the
bridge into the third movement.
The featured artist of the first
concert was Richard Tucker, a
leading Metropolitan Opera ten-
or since his debut in 1945. Tuck-
er never possessed that special
and of virile innocence which
made tenors such as joerling,t
Wunderlich, Schiotz, or Krebs
moving and loved, but in his,
prime Tucker had the perfect
blend of Heroism and Ardor for
Italian roles, without the exces-
ses that often 'make Corelli or <i>
Del Monaco displeasing.
Well, Tucker can nolonger
be said to be in his prime, but
his voice still warrants admira-
tion and that perhaps under-
handed complimet of being
"tserviceable." In his opening two

Ormandy, as always

arias, one by Mozart (K. 431)
and one by Handel ("Sound an
Alarm" from Judas Maccabae-
us) -his voice sounded unopen,
unfresh, and showed little re-
serve; it furthermore constrict-
ed rather than lifted in the up-
per register and he could pro-
duce no real legato plastic
However, he seemed more re-
laxed and flexible in Meyer-
beer's "0 Paradiso," and in "No!
Pazzo Son! Guardate" from
Manon Lescaut he really turned
on the verismo and the volume
to give a splendidly hammed-up
performance that was more
amusing and exciting for its be-
ing out of context.
Featured on the second even-
ing's concert was Hans Richter-
Haaser playing the Chopin E-
minor Piano Concerto. Richter-
Haaser specializes in Beethoven
and Brahms, and in the former
he especially excells. At a recital
I heard him give in Boston four
years ago I was especially im-
pressed by the sensitivity he
could contain within an enorm-
ously strong and dramatic ap-
proach. It w a s therefore sur-
prising to witness the light,
sachet1approach he brought to
Chopin's poetry. Richter-Haas-
er gave us Chopin all sweet and
graceful and he recalled Heine's
comment that "Chopin's fame
is aristocratic, it is perfumed
with the approval of good so-
It was, all in all, a disquiet-
ing performance. In the opening
allegro maestoso, Richter-Haas-
er revealed an extraordinary
light touch and clean fingering,
but in the precious flow of po-
etic doilies an essential urgency
and potency was lacking. Of the

second movement, less, said the
better; the pianist made several
errors that seemed to rattle him
and he did not. regain his poise
until the.third movement, when
he and Thor Johnson, guest con-
ducting the orchestra, had a dif-
ference of opinion on tempi that
was never firmly resolved. In
fact, the entire performance
showed the lack of rehearsals
that such Festivals make diffi-
cult to avoid.
Also on the program were two
works by Ginastera, his Psalm
150 Op. 5, and Pantasilea's aria
from Bomarzo. The former, writ-
ten in a style that may be con-
sidered a mixture of Stravinsky
and DmitrJ Tiomkin, showed the
composer's early interest in and
m3 astery of percussive effects.
Bomarzo which was premiered
last year, I have not heard, but
I found the sprechstimme "aria"
from the opera, even in Joanna
Simon's credible performance,
tedious, boring, dated, and pre-
tentious - four unfdir adjec-
tives for a first hearing.
Concluding the program, the
University Choral Union per-
formed John Corigliano's "Fern
Hill." Closely reminiscent of
Barber/Agee's "Knoxville Sum-
mer 1915" in b o t h style and
tone, Corigliano's music tends to
swallow Dylan Thomas's mag-
nificent poetry -, and the last
thing Thomas's poetry needs is
further obfuscation - but nev-
ertheless evoked t h e idyllic
mood well. Greater choral defi-
nition would no doubt have ben-
efited the music a n d revealed
the composer's preferences in a
more enlightening fashion.
On Saturday night Hill Aud.
was as full as it would be for
the festival; Ormandy conduct-

ed the P.O. in two symphonies,
Ives' Third and Mahler's First.
In his third symphony, writ-
ten between 1901 and 1911, Ives
depended as usual upon hymn
tunes but he did not set out to
meld them into any rambunc-
tious polytonal collage; rather
he brooded over their melan-
cholic place in the' American
tradition of village revival meet-
ings, and in the three move-
ments entitled "Old Folks Gath-
ering," "Children's Day," and
"Communion," I v e s effected
serene music, quite limited in
coloristic detail, of subtly shift-
ing moods. Relying on the
s m o o t h Philadelphia strings,
Ormandy molded a lovely per-
The major work on that eve-
nings program was Mahler's
"Titan" Symphony, completed
when the composer was twenty-
seven. Basically mordant in its
outlook, the symphony contains
all of the motifs of Mahler's
later work: the amenities of na-
ture, the brooding cynicism, the
lamentations, and the conclud-
ing, projected !affirmation in
which Mahler longed to believe.
Uniting the disparate elements
of Mahler's sensibility is the
musical progression of ideas and
not merely the transformations
of the musical structure. The
instrumental lyricism, even in
the "morning melodies" of the
first movement, ne v e r exist
merely as coloristic effects. B. H.
Haggin, speaking of Mahler's
use of the orchestra, says quite
rightly: "If an instrument plays
or an inner voice moves, the
activity is never a routine in-
strumental doubling or filling in
of texture, but always something
done with attention, thought,
and purpose."
It is exactly in this needed
philosophic searching out of in-
ner necessity that Ormandy
fails. In the "Langsam" move-
ment, all- of the instrumental
effects were there, but no sense
of the motivating Idea; there
was action without strategy.
Furthermore, because there
was no real intuitional contact
with the underlying personal
sensibility, certain effects were
often exaggerated (especially in
the "Sturmisch bewegt' move-
ment), somewhat like' a stripper
who, no longer believing in the
basic allure of her beauty,
grinds grotesquely. The final D-
major affirmative hymn of
praise lacked convincing sincer-
ity, and thus where lift was re-
quired, Ormandy provided only
This esseptial commiseration
with the motivating Idea of the
music / is probably something
that a conductor cannot simply
acquire, and thus no matter how
well the orchestra plays, Mahler
will always require, for the most
meaningful communication of
his sensibility and art men like
Walter or Bernstein.
It is worthwhile to note that
Ormandy, following the lead of
the Odyssey/New Haven Sym-
phony recording, reinserted the
"Blumine" movement that Mah-
ler decided to 'delete. Mahler
knew best, for this pastoral an-
dante neither fits the structure
nor the mood of the symphony;

it may be seen as an attempt to
soften the pungent anxiety of
the music and as such is a dis-
honest palliative which Mahler
must have realized weakened
the thrust of his symphony. It
is only our modern penchant for
completeness and accuracy, not
p u r e musical considerations,
that will no doubt persuade
conductors to hereafter include
the movement as a matter of
That moment all concert-
goers wait for-when the artist
is lit, inspired, one with the
music, when everything falls in-
to place-occurred in the fourth
concert. Zara Nelsova, an im-
posing woman with Greta Gar-
bo gestures, embraced her cello
and performed miracles with
the Elgar Concerto Op. 85.
In the first movement espe-
cially, Nelsova could do no
wrong and her fingers effort-
lessly and ever so lightly found
their targets; moreover, Miss
Nelsova seemed in perfect rap-
port with the slightest expres-
sive demands of the often re-
petitive music. Thor Johnson
was alert to the special wonder
occurring and elicited fine ac-
companiement from the Phila-
delphia men, who themselves
awarded Miss Nelsova with
bravos. The Elgar concerto is
not terribly much of a work-
that is, it handles its limited
lyricism with limited invention
-but Miss Nelsova drew from
it as much as one could ask.
Also on the fourth program
was Schubert's A-flat major
Mass. Thor Johnson led the Uni-
versity Choral Union in a sur-
See MAY, Page 5



Zara Nelsova: Yes



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