Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 22, 2013

Roman Holiday

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
through April 21, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

What’s a “Roman Holiday” concert without a Respighi tone poem? Though only one of these poems had a direct connection with Italy, solid performances of three repertory standards made the seventh program in the HSO’s current “Masterworks” series a coherent and satisfying evening.

Any concert that opens with a Rossini overture is off to a popular start. Set in ancient Babylon, “Semiramide” was one of the Italian master’s most serious operas, but its overture was just as light and effervescent as any of his many other familiar overtures. Bulgarian-born guest conductor Rossen Milanov led a taut, lively account that featured especially notable playing from HSO brass and woodwinds.

Clancy Newman
Albany native Clancy Newman then joined the orchestra as soloist in a deeply felt performance of Elgar’s 1919 Cello Concerto. The English composer’s last major work, it expressed both his nostalgia for the Edwardian era that had been swept away by World War I and his grief over the loss of many friends in that conflict and over his and his wife’s failing health. The elegiac tone of the piece was reflected in its unusual structure: three slow movements leading into a closing Allegro. Milanov and the orchestra gave powerful backing to Newman’s rich and focused cello tone.        

The concert closed with a jubilant rendition of the program’s most obvious namesake, Mendelssohn’s joyous Symphony No. 4, which he called his “Italian” symphony because it was inspired by a tour of Italy that he took in 1831 at the age of 22. Conductor and players again found the emotional core of each movement, from the exuberant opening “Allegro vivace,” the solemn processional “Andante con moto,” the delicate “Con moto moderato,” to the thrilling “Saltarello: Presto” finale.   

Enthusiastic applause for all three pieces suggested not only that no one missed Respighi on this program, but that the prospect of inspired music making has more drawing power for classical audiences than catchy concert titles.