Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 10, 2015

Bold Beethoven

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 5–7, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

If you were an expert conductor and pianist, what better composer could you find to showcase your skills than the protean Beethoven, who played and conducted his own piano concertos on multiple occasions? Returning to Hartford after his triumphant HSO debut last season, that’s exactly what guest conductor William Eddins did.

His all-Beethoven program opened with an exciting account of the dramatic “Coriolan” Overture, inspired by a then recent play about the ancient Roman warrior Coriolanus. Eddins is a full-body conductor, and his vivid gestures (with no score, baton, or podium all evening) drew committed and responsive playing from every section of the orchestra, which was reduced throughout the concert to about 40 musicians, the size of a classical orchestra in Beethoven’s tine.

William Eddins
For the third piano concerto, Eddins was seated at the keyboard center stage facing the orchestra with his back to the audience. Beethoven’s only concerto in a minor key, it opens in a somber mood, which is sustained through much of the long first movement and most of the Rondo finale. In the radiant central Largo, the conductor/pianist caressed the keys in contrast to his more thundering approach in the opening movement and a lighter, more playful touch in the finale. Whether by nodding his head, leaning his torso, or waving his arms when free, Eddins maintained steady contact with the musicians and elicited a stirring orchestral performance to underline his incisive piano playing.

Bypassing the more often played odd-numbered symphonies, he closed the concert after intermission with a robust rendition of Beethoven’s eighth and most joyous symphony. Moderate tempos in all three pieces on the program gave the music time to breathe and highlighted details not always heard at faster speeds. The blustering bravado of the opening Allegro, the bubbly humor of the Allegretto, the pastoral charm of the minuet and trio, and the rollicking spirit of the monumental finale were all brilliantly realized by conductor and orchestra.

It was heartening to see an even slightly more diverse than usual audience welcoming this African American superstar back to the Belding Theater. Another encore, please.