Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 18, 2011

Masterworks Program No. 7

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
April 14, 2011
by Terry Larsen

If one were to "surf the net" for a list of the 100 works most performed by symphony orchestras, pieces by Brahms and Beethoven would be well represented. Works by Paul Hindemith would not appear on the list. For this reviewer, however, the performance of his Konzertmusik for Strings and Brass, op. 50 was the most impressive and moving moment of the evening. Its harmonic language is quite idiosyncratic, setting rich timbres of brass and strings sailing on a dark, turbulent sea of dense harmony and compact motivic material. It is a truly impressive and interesting work that invites further investigation. HSO should be applauded for programming that includes music on the margins of symphonic "business as usual".

By comparison, Beethoven's well known Leonore Overture No. 3, one of four overtures written for his only opera Fidelio, seemed all sweetness and lace. The Leonore is customary concert fare that has taken on a life of its own divorced from its seldom performed parent. In it is heard, in microcosm, the themes of love, valor, loyalty and redemption. The HSO played with clarity and precision, bringing this revered work to life with graceful attention to detail.

Brahms' first piano concerto, written at age 25, was not well received by audiences nor by the orchestra entrusted with its care in its premiere performance. Brahms was traumatized by this indifferent reception. Thankfully, time has proven more kind to this massive concerto.  Conductor Edward Cumming, the HSO, and accomplished pianist Matei Varga were in perfect accord, achieving a fine balance between the brilliant passages for piano that are embedded within the enormous orchestral scaffold. Varga won the hearts of the audience with his masterful command of the delicate passages as well as those more pyrotechnical moments, a sweet smile on his face and fire at his fingertips.

It should be noted that Cumming's tenure with this fine orchestra will draw to a close soon. He is a most impressive musician and director who has led with great distinction. Bravo, Maestro!