Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 15, 2012

Russian Masters

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
March 8, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

In the sixth “Masterworks” series of its current season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan led the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in a program of two orchestral staples and one comparative rarity by three Russian composers.

Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain,” in the familiar orchestral arrangement by the composer’s friend Rimsky-Korsakov, led off in a galvanizing account that shook the rafters of the Bushnell’s Belding Theater.  Brass and woodwinds rousingly depicted a nocturnal witches’ sabbath, while strings and percussion gently evoked the ringing of church bells at daybreak in the quiet conclusion.

The Maestra introduced the next work, Shostakovich’s seldom played “Symphony No. 9,”
with her own commentary and musical examples. Noting that most composers’ ninth symphonies are grander statements than this modest 27-minute piece in five short movements and that it defied expectations from Shostakovich for a heroic celebration of the recent Soviet victory in World War II, she pointed out an ironic quotation in the fourth movement from the massive finale of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The orchestra’s lithe performance nicely captured the sardonic humor of the work, from what Kuan called the “Haydn symphony meets Back to the Future” quality of the first movement to the mock-dramatic “Allegretto” finale.

The program closed with perhaps the most popular of all violin concertos, Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto in D Major,” which featured 17-year-old South Windsor native and first HSO “artist in residence” Sirena Huang. With years of professional training and performances with 40 orchestras in 12 countries already on her resume, Huang’s interpretive maturity belies her age. Her technical command of this challenging piece, which was pronounced “unplayable” by its first intended performer in 1878, was clear from the big sound and rich, focused tone that Huang produced in all three movements, with considerate support from Kuan and the orchestra throughout. Huang’s probing account of her encore, the opening “Adagio” from Bach’s “Sonata No. 3” for unaccompanied violin, suggests a promising future for this young talent, and the enthusiastic local fan base that cheered her on at this sold-out concert.