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HARP CONCERTO

BIG 'PRELUDE' CROWD HEARS CONCERTO PREMIERE
Jay Harvey, Staff Writer, The Indianapolis Star, February 5, 1987

Maybe it was the thrill of hearing a world premiere or the pull that a renowned guitarist exerts on the fervent body of classical-guitar fans every sizable city has.
Then again, maybe it was the effect of a new marketing push given to the second half of the season by the administrative staff. Whatever the cause, an audience half again the size of any previous Prelude series crowd attended Thursday's concert by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra In the Circle Theatre.

About 1,500 concertgoers heard the first of three performances of an unusual program containing the first performance of a concerto commissioned by ISO principal harpist Diane Evans, a rarely heard guitar concerto by Brazil's prolific master composer and a couple of precocious instances of genitis by Mozart and Richard Strauss.

Jan Bach, an Illinois composer, has made from his musical friendship with Ms. Evans a beguiling, 25-minute piece in which the solo Instrument gets plenty of display and a smallish orchestra characterized by a large battery of percussion is put through a multitude of paces. A dizzying breadth of utterance is given to the harp - all of which Ms. Evans brought off strikingly. Bach's writing for the solo Instrument is lively. intricate and sometimes mellow. The orchestra, especially the percussion, is ever-ready to react to rhythms and melodic fragments first stated by the harp. A brilliant passage for xylophone and harp near the end of the piece is the most engaging example of this. Shortly into the work, there is some gentle polyphony spotlighting solo instruments in the orchestra. Charming overlays of solo violins follow the third cadenza. At other points the whole orchestra turns percussive with catchy dance rhythms.

Certain bright spots aside the work has a second-half problem. The composer seems to have found himself with so many wonderful things set in motion that creating a successful climax and denouement poses problems; He's a little like a trick juggler who gets a bowling ball, an apple and an Indian club up in the air and can't figure out how to end his act without dropping something. In the case of Bach's concerto, those pungent rhythms offer material with which to end with a flourish. But he's got to keep alive the introspective side of his work, too, so he inserts some purple passages that fail to convince. Gestures that captivated on a small scale prove unequal to the burden of bringing matters to a head.

Yet it is no back-handed praise to pronounce Bach's Concerto a more interesting piece than Villa- Lobos' Guitar Concerto. Carlos Barbosa-Lima played with discretion and a firm sense of purpose; his clarity was never of the cool, uncommitted kind.
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