Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 20, 2013

Love Is in the Air

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
through February 17, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Carolyn Kuan
Rarely does a classical concert include only one movement of a symphony, but iconoclastic programmer and HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan began the orchestra’s fifth “Masterworks” program with the “Adagietto” movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a sort of love letter to the composer's wife. Its melting lyricism in a radiant performance by the HSO strings and acting principal harp Susan Knapp Thomas proved a lovely opener for this tribute to Valentine’s Day.

An energetic account of a suite from Falla’s comic love ballet "The Three-Cornered Hat" followed, featuring Spanish-flavored percussion as well as outstanding work from principal bassoon Yeh Chi Wang, and led by an especially animated Kuan. Enthusiastic applause for both pieces suggested that she should consider presenting the ballet and the symphony complete in future concerts. 

Orchestral selections from Bizet’s "Carmen" were conducted by Brazilian-born Alexandra Arrieche, the newest recipient of the Taki Concordia Fellowship for young women conductors that was first won by Kuan in 2003. Arrieche drew lively and dramatic playing from an expanded orchestra, with distinguished solo work by harpist Thomas again, principal flute Greig Shearer, and principal trumpet Scott McIntosh. Like Kuan, Arrieche’s stage presence was engaging and her technique clear and forceful.   

The program concluded after intermission with a blazing rendition by Alexander Kobrin of perhaps the most challenging piece in the repertoire, Rachmaninoff’s "Concerto No. 3." While meeting the technical demands with ease, the youthful Russian pianist probed the emotional depths of the alternately melancholy and exhilarating music just as convincingly. His rhapsodic playing and the orchestra’s nuanced virtuosity under Kuan even recalled the classic recording by the composer with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. An encore, Rachmaninoff’s "Prelude in G-sharp minor," further highlighted the subtlety of Kobrin’s stunning artistry.

The Valentine’s theme was nicely enhanced with readings before the Falla by Hartt School faculty spouses Malcolm and Johanna Morrison of love letters respectively from Mozart to his wife Costanza and from Zelda to her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald.