Lorne Betts in The Spectator, Monday 7 July 1969
Stratford concert dismal failure
Save for a few brief moments in Bach's Concerto for violin, oboe, and orchestra, the Sunday Series opener yesterday in Stratford with little more than a dismal failure.
After the similar disaster of the Satyricon première last Friday, one begins to question the audacity of the Festival powers-that-be in their most apparent assumption that the general public is gullible enough tto [sic] accept imitative rubbish in place of valid creative integrity.
Evidently they also assume that the average person is immune [sic] to the difference between quality and sham.
The combination of Bach and Rock as planned for yesterday's concert is not as far-fetched or inconsistent as one might at first think.
Bach, like Mozart and others, has been the influence for more than one modern-day composer and instrumental combo. It is the strength and flexibility of rhythm that can make the two compatible, as well as something of the sure architectural modes.
Unfortunately the Procol Harum, guest performers at the Stratford concert in question, have no conception of rhythm and its immense possibilities. There was nothing but an incessant pounding of drums and cymbals in a vain effort to cover the inadequacy of rhythm, form and even material.
What material was offered, particularly in the two works for the orchestra and the Harum group, drived [sic] from the backwash of romanticism. One does not question the intrinsic beauty of such as the Adagio from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but one does resent the rape performed on its kind as during the course of A Salty Dog, the first of the joint instrumental efforts.
We are assured that present-day groups, different from the combos of an earlier time, write their own material. If that be the case, why can they not produce something original and of the times?
They tell us, too, that the words of these new works are of the prime importance. Fine, then let's hear them – but uncluttered by an aura of tonal distractions. One might also suggest that the words, if they be truly significant, should be delivered by someone capable of true projection.
Unfortunately for those of yesterday afternoon’s concert not familiar or interested in the music of Bach, there would be much about which they could carp.
The D major Overture was given a thoroughly dull performance. Not only did one question if the orchestra players had ever seen it before, one also wondered if conductor Lawrence Smith has the slightest knowledge of Bach and his music.
What saved the Bach Concerto from a similar fate was the presence of soloists Charles Libove and Ray Still. Obviously inspiration travels quickly, for in a few moments the orchestra picked up their subtlety of rhythm, finally-scaled nuances and thoroughly luscious tone.
For all the good qualities of the outer Allegros, it was the Adagio that stood out. As Rosetti might have put it – '’tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass'.
A few brief moments of musical luxury just enough to resure [sic] one's faith in what the musical part of the Stratford Festival has always represented.
Perhaps this weekend at Stratford will prove to be a passing misery – one of the growing-pain type.
More about Procol Harum at Stratford, 1969