Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 12, 2013

Beethoven & Bernstein

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
November 7–10, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

“The apotheosis of the Dance,” Richard Wagner’s famous description of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, is a phrase that could also describe the other two pieces on the second Masterworks concert of the current HSO season.

The program opened with Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 ballet "Fancy Free." HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan made her entrance, turned on a vintage gramophone at stage left, where Billie Holiday sang “Big Stuff,” the prologue Bernstein composed for her, and waited for "Lady Day" to finish before giving her musicians their downbeat. It was a lovely prelude to the HSO’s exuberant performance of this jazzy music. Brass and percussion played their featured parts with gusto, and HSO pianist Margreet Francis earned a solo bow for her dazzling work.

Next came a rarely heard piece by a composer seldom played in the concert hall: Astor Piazzolla’s "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." Reflecting the tango rhythms of his native Argentina, these four pieces (named Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring) were arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov after the composer’s death in 1992 into a half-hour-long suite for solo violin and string orchestra. Each movement includes at least one clever quotation from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Photo by Peter Schaaf
The brilliant soloist was Hartford native Peter Winograd, a Juilliard graduate, member of the American String Quartet, and son of Arthur Winograd, who led the HSO from 1964 to 1985. Both soloist and other ensemble members interspersed lyrical playing with entertaining bursts of distorted string sound or percussive effects from knocking on the wood of their instruments. The enthusiastic audience rewarded them with a standing ovation.

A thrilling account of Beethoven’s "Seventh Symphony" followed intermission. A flowing introduction led into a lively reading of the first movement Allegro, while the ravishing Allegretto was taken at a moderate pace. The last two movements were breathtaking in their energy and forward motion. The full orchestra played all four movements with an exhilaration that showed why, as Klaus G. Roy is quoted in the program notes, “many a listener has come away from a hearing of this Symphony in a state of being punch-drunk.”