Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 18, 2008

Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Brahms

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
The Bushnell, Hartford
February 16, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

This Valentine-inspired program featured Ravel’s intricate orchestrations, Rachmaninoff’s scoring skills, and Brahms’ transformation of melancholia into musical majesty. The Hartford Symphony’s salute to romance provided beauty and bite, euphoria and sadness, the skill of a sensitive pianist, all under the baton of guest conductor Tania Miller.

Imagine Tania Miller growing up in Saskatchewan (pop. 1000) who at age 35 is in her fifth season as Music Director of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Maestra Miller won the audience’s admiration for her mature, definitive conducting skills; and for her warmth as an engaging young woman, she earned a piece of its heart.

Maurice Ravel’s "Le Tombeau de Couperin" is what impressionistic painting sounds like – shimmering, lush, vivacious, guarded, poignant, muted – particularly when the composer is roiling with emotional pain due to World War One, the deaths of six friends, the passing of his beloved mother, and the effects of brutality on French culture. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is a collection of variations on one particular theme composed by the legendary violinist Niccolio Paganini. It’s what the scratchings of an algebraist might resemble when trying one hypothesis after another in search of the ultimate equation. But a brainstorm directs the mathematician towards a radically different approach which brings forth an interim possibility of heavenly proportions. The piano artistry of guest soloist Anne-Marie McDermott, tempered by respect for the piece, thrilled the audience.

The Symphony No. 4 in E minor by Johannes Brahms, in four movements, was written while he was warding off depression. Sometimes the music brightens, almost as if he doesn’t dare to feel happy. Ah, the fullness of Brahms! Maestra Miller evoked the orchestra to step up their involvement with the music without compromising their discipline. The repetition of ta dum, ta dum, foretells that something big this way comes. Can it be forestalled? Maybe. No, sorry, it’s inevitable. And this great composition swelled to a majestic, controlled conclusion. The audience was pulled to its feet.