Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
January 15-18, 2015
by Michael J. Moran
The program book for the fourth concert of this season’s HSO Masterworks series notes that guest conductor Daniel Hege has been “twice honored…for innovative programming.” So it was no surprise to hear pops concert fare, movie music, and a rarely heard symphony from diverse national traditions on his HSO debut program.
Hege led off with a sensuous and exciting take on the “Ritual Fire Dance” from Falla’s 1914 ballet “El Amor Brujo.” The insistent beat of pianist Margreet Francis in the background and the colorful gloss of Julie Spring’s harp evoked the exotic Spanish atmosphere of the score with special impact.
But HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal was the featured soloist and real star of the program. Born and mostly trained in Russia, he makes solo appearances annually with the HSO and regularly with other orchestras. Sigal played Chausson’s haunting “Poeme” with purity of tone and depth of feeling, and Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasie” with stunning technical aplomb. Based on themes from Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” the Fantasie was originally written for the 1946 film “Humoresque,” where it was played by one of Sigal’s teachers, Isaac Stern. Orchestra and audience alike rewarded their favorite son with enthusiastic applause.
With the hard-working Sigal back in his concertmaster’s chair after intermission, the concert ended with two pieces by the Finnish master Jean Sibelius. Commanding brass launched a thrilling version of “Finlandia,” the 1899 symphonic poem and hymn of resistance to Russian occupation of Finland that put Sibelius on the musical map. Next was a vigorous reading of the too seldom played Symphony No. 5, whose major-key energy annotator Richard Rodda notes is often interpreted as “an affirmation of the human spirit,” since the composer wrote it during World War I. Hege and the HSO captured the shifting moods of its three varied movements and rollicking close with clarity, power, and conviction.
Music Director of the Wichita Symphony and frequent guest conductor of major American and world orchestras, Hege is a communicative leader whom the orchestra clearly enjoyed working with and the audience appreciated and would undoubtedly welcome back to Hartford.