Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 1, 2008

Respighi, Fuchs, Montague, Elgar

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Bushnell, Hartford
April 30, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Suddenly, organist Edward Clark’s thundering chord opened the latest program in the Masterworks Series, a reverberation that if created within dimmed light and long shadows could inject fear into one’s marrow . But in the lighted safety of Mortensen Hall, with the joining of throbbing cellos and the sweetness of violins, the Cantico of Ottorino Respighi’s (1879-1936) Suite in G Major for Organ and Strings became more celestial than sepulchral.

The composing of "Canticle To The Sun" by Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956), a concerto for horn and orchestra, was inspired by the "virtuosic playing" of Timothy Jones, principal hornist of the London Symphony Orchestra. The evening’s world premiere featured internationally acclaimed soloist Richard Todd whose burnished French horn shone with the brilliance of a jeweler’s window and sent forth enriched variations of tunes based upon the Protestant hymn, "All Creatures of Our God and King." At times, the dialog between soloist and orchestra seemed to be spontaneous, as if the magnificent horn was saying, "Listen to my thoughts!" and the strings, eager to understand, were responding, "Is this what you meant?"

"Behold a Pale Horse" for organ, two trumpets, two horns, two trombones and a tuba by Stephen Montague (b. 1943), was inspired by The Apocalypse as described by John in the Book of Revelation. Maestro Edward Cumming read aloud: "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hellfire followed with him. And Power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with all the beasts of the earth." For the next fifteen minutes, the eight musicians roiled the score into a cacophony of awesome magnitude. The terror banished in Respighi’s Cantico was transferred with a vengeance into this blaring assault that manifested mental images of a violent end of this world.

Variations on an Original Theme, "Enigma," Opus 36 by Edward Elgar (1957-1934) tapped into what oxygen remained in the hall. According to the composer, the theme is silent but is suggested through a series of clues. We can speculate all we want but we’ll never know what Elgar had in mind. The composer created musical mini portraits of his friends, hence a smorgasbord of orchestrations: if some friends were delightful and some weren’t, the overall effect was charming.