Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 11, 2016


Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
October 7–9, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

The HSO web site describes the opening weekend program of their 73rd season as presenting “music with global flair.” Hearing Spanish and Arabian-flavored music by Russian and Spanish composers performed by musicians from Taiwan and Croatia, it was hard to disagree. The traditional season-launching “Star-Spangled Banner” only reinforced this international theme.

Beginning her sixth season as HSO Music Director, Carolyn Kuan followed the anthem with a splashy account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful orchestral showpiece “Capriccio Espagnol.” In five short movements based on Spanish dance rhythms, the 15-minute piece features several passages for solo violin, which concertmaster Leonid Sigal dispatched with his usual flair. All the musicians played with brio, particularly the expanded percussion section, including castanets. 

A smaller HSO took the stage for a sensuous rendition of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” for guitar and orchestra. Written when the composer returned to Spain in 1939 from Paris after the Spanish Civil War, it evokes the summer palace of the traditional Spanish court in the small town of Aranjuez. Making her HSO debut, 35-year-old Croatian guitarist Ana Vidovic first played the guitar in public at age 7, and her comfort level with it was exceeded only by her virtuosity in the two lively outer movements and sensitivity in the rapturous central Adagio. The orchestra and Kuan provided glowing support.

Vidovic then showed off a dazzling tremolo technique in her serene solo encore performance of Francisco Tarrega’s “Memories of the Alhambra,” recalling a more familiar Spanish palace.

A dramatic reading of Rimsky-Korsakov’s magical “Scheherazade” brought the program to a thrilling close. Each of the four movements of this “symphonic suite” depicts one or more of the tales told by Scheherazade, wife of legendary sultan Shakriar, to keep him from executing her because he believed all women were faithless (she succeeded after 1,001 nights). Scheherazade herself is represented by the solo violin, again elegantly voiced by Sigal. Kuan’s leadership was taut yet flexible, as she kept the flow of changing tempos within movements, especially the challenging “Story of the Kalendar Prince,” in exemplary balance.  All sections of the vast orchestra played with ardor and finesse.