Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 13, 2017

Choral Fantasy and Mystical Songs

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
June 9-11, 2017
by Michael J. Moran

Adam Kerry Boyles
No doubt inspired by the canny programming skills of Hartford Symphony Orchestra Music Director Carolyn Kuan, Assistant Conductor Adam Kerry Boyles assembled one of the most diverse and stimulating programs ever presented by a local orchestra to close the HSO’s 73rd season on a high note. It imaginatively paired two favorite masterpieces by Brahms and Ravel with welcome HSO premieres of less familiar works by Haydn, Beethoven and Vaughan Williams.

This graduation season concert aptly began with Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture.” Incorporating four popular student drinking songs, it was written in 1880 to acknowledge the composer’s receipt of an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau. Boyles led a warm and invigorating performance of this jubilant score.

Conductor and a smaller orchestra were then joined by the 100 plus members of the Hartford Chorale for an equally joyous account of Haydn’s 1799 setting of the Christian hymn of praise to God, “Te Deum.” The chorus’s rendition of the Latin text was vibrant, enunciated with exemplary clarity, and powerfully backed by Broyles and the HSO.

Russian-American pianist Alexander Moutouzkine next joined the chorus and larger orchestra in Beethoven’s unwieldy but fascinating “Choral Fantasy,” which begins with a five-minute passage for solo piano and introduces five vocal soloists and the full chorus only in the last few measures of its twenty-minute length. After a series of variations on an early Beethoven song, the concluding text by poet Christoph Kuffner celebrates the power of music. The ebullient piece was brilliantly performed by all forces under Broyles’ carefully balanced leadership.

A sensitive interpretation of Ravel’s colorful and exquisitely crafted “Mother Goose Suite” followed intermission, and the program closed with Vaughan Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs” for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Based on four poems by George Herbert (“Easter” is divided over the first two songs), the emotional heart of this radiant cycle is the central poem, “Love Bade Me Welcome.” John Hancock was a dramatic soloist, while chorus and orchestra were alternately forceful and ravishing.   

The only flaw in this auspicious debut by Broyles was a lack of printed or projected texts.