Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 25, 2018

HSO: The Keys to Romance

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
February 16–18, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the fifth “Masterworks Series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan presented what the orchestra’s web site billed as “a night of epic love” in music for Valentine’s Day weekend.

The concert began with a ravishing performance of the tender “Intermezzo” from Pietro Mascagni’s beloved 1890 one-act opera of tragic, doomed love, Cavalleria Rusticana. This was followed by an affectionate account of Haydn’s last symphony, the fruit of a mutual love affair between the Austro-Hungarian master and his British admirers. Nicknamed the “London” for its rapturous reception there in 1795, this 104th symphony features a spacious opening “Adagio-Allegro,” a gripping theme-and-variations “Andante,” a courtly “Menuet,” and a sparkling “Spiritoso” finale. It glowed in the warmth of a classically reduced HSO.  

Anderson & Roe
The second half of the evening belonged to the Anderson and Roe piano duo, formed in 2002 by Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe as students at the Juilliard School with the mission, in their words, “to make classical music a relevant and powerful force around the world.” Their first two selections included full orchestral backing. The mercurial opening movement of Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra,” reflecting his love of Parisian popular music, was humorous and unpredictable. Anderson’s imaginative “Fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen for Two Pianos and Orchestra” showcased even more virtuosity by all the musicians, especially the soloists, in another story of love and death.

But they came into their own when the orchestra left the stage. After a lush “Night of Love” movement from Rachmaninoff’s first suite for two pianos, the duo moved into livelier territory with four excerpts from Bernstein’s Romeo-and-Juliet update, West Side Story. By their finale, a tempestuous “Tango” by Astor Piazzolla, they had switched seats several times at one piano, reached across each other’s hands at the keyboard, and plumbed the piano strings in a full-on display of the high spirits that have made them a YouTube sensation.

Alongside Kuan in Oprah mode, Anderson and Roe introduced each piece with engaging commentary, earning extra kudos from an enthusiastic audience that would welcome their early return to Hartford.