Orchestra presents a varied tribute

Friends of the late Bunker Clark, composer Charles Hoag, Marie Rubis Bauer and chamber music in general spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra's first concert of this fall season.

The 90-minute concert, at Trinity Lutheran Church, was dedicated to Clark, a longtime musician and patron of the orchestra who died last year. The orchestra, under the capable direction of its new conductor and artistic director Steven Elisha, presented a varied program of "Handel, Haydn and Hoag." The last of these was a composition by the well-known Lawrence professor, composer and bassist Charles Hoag.

The nave of Trinity was filled with an appreciative audience, and its acoustics were congenial to the orchestra's 30-member ensemble, joined by guest artist Rubis Bauer on the harpsichord and organ.

Haydn's "Symphony No. 8 in G major" opened with the Allegro molto movement, where a 10-note thematic phrase was repeated and transformed by various instruments. The mellow Andante movement that followed was well-executed, with a pleasing blend of strings and horns.

A slight season-opening tension in these first movements vanished in the Minuet, where all the musicians seemed very much in their element, highlighted by bassist Tim Crawford's miniconcerto. Horns and oboes also complemented the strings nicely in this movement.

The final Presto movement, a challenge met by every section, convincingly represented the thunderstorm from which a nickname for the symphony, "La Tempesta," derives. The symphony was received with prolonged applause.

Next on the program was the world premiere of Hoag's "Sarabande and Boogie," a short work commissioned by Sharon Hettinger in Clark's honor. The Sarabande, nominally a slow 17th- and 18th-century dance, became a dirge for Clark, as the lower strings descended into deep bass notes, and all strings together expressed a lament through minor and dissonant chords. A lyrical violin struck an elegiac tone at the end, rising above a series of descending chords from the orchestra.

The "Boogie" movement, vividly described in Hettinger's program notes as "a whiplash of musical styles," was as playful as Clark himself. Violins and violas played at times as if they were jazz fiddles, and Steve Riley's percussion work featured snare and bass drums, cowbells, vibraphone, wood block, tympani, tam-tam and "thunderer" whistle. One wished the harpsichord's quiet voice could have been heard more clearly amid this boisterous music. The conductor called on Hoag to stand and acknowledge the audience's enthusiastic applause, shouts and cheers.

The final work, Handel's "Organ Concerto in B Flat, Opus 7 No. 1," showcased the flawless playing of Rubis Bauer on the baroque portative organ. Her playing was distinct above the orchestra, and its beauty left those present wishing the work were longer.

The concerto began with two Andante movements in which the organ and orchestra alternate. The organ introduced the theme, which the orchestra repeated. The theme was followed by variations; a fresh statement of the theme was played by the organ, to be again echoed and altered by the orchestra. The Largo e piano movement succeeded, with a prominent moving bass line played against sustained chords from the organ.

The concerto ended agreeably with the lively Bourree, based on a 17th-century French dance for which Bach as well as Handel had written music.

As Rubis Bauer acknowledged the concluding applause, Hoag presented her with a bouquet, and continued applause called her back for a second bow.

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