Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 12, 2008

Schumann, Bruch, Mendelssohn

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
The Bushnell, Hartford
April 5, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

The centerpiece of the program, Scottish Fantasy for Violin with Orchestra and Harp by Max Bruch (1838-1920) rendered what followed ("The Italian" by Mendelssohn, 1809-1920) anti-climatic. How could that be? Because Leonid Sigal stepped out of his role as HSO’s Concertmaster to beguile the audience with his love affair with the violin. At one with his instrument, Sigal embraced the various moods of the Scottish Fantasy, including spirited adaptations of various European ethnic dances and passages of fluid abandonment akin to improvisation. There were moments when it seemed as if the composer might have happened upon a wagon encampment and transferred the experience into music which clicked with the romantic within Sigal whereupon he assumed the identity of a solitary gypsy violinist baring his tortured soul. In the program notes, Dr. Richard E. Rodda’s writes: "The invigorating, tuneful Scottish Fantasy is evidence of Sr. Donald Tovey’s trenchant summation of the music of this composer: ‘It is not easy to write as beautifully as Max Bruch.’ "

During the pre-concert talk, guest conductor Grant Llewellyn described the program as a happy combination of music, in essence a musical European Grand Tour. A native of Wales (born 1962), this engaging musician’s other passion is soccer. Like Mendelssohn 150 years earlier, Llewellyn when almost twenty, toured Italy for a year or so, earning some money from playing the cello but more from playing soccer. He praised the Scottish Fantasy, saying that it "puts the violin through its paces as much as a concerto" and that the harp creates "pyrotechnics of its own."

But Llewellyn was most enthusiastic about the Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E Major by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) which opened the program. Obscure, rarely performed, Llewellyn stated, "I love it to death." Composed during Robert and Clara Schumann’s first year of marriage (her father opposed her marriage with a vehemence to rival Mr. Barrett’s of Elizabeth’s to Robert Browning), their happiness is mirrored in the buoyancy of the score.

Nevertheless, the night belonged to Sigal. When he returned after intermission, having resumed his role as Concertmaster, the audience greeted him with enthusiastic applause. At the conclusion of "The Italian," protracted applause signaled Llewellyn and the orchestra of the audience’s appreciation for an evening of first-rate classical music.