Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 3, 2018

HSO: A Scottish Fantasy

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
January 19–21, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the fourth “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, guest conductor Stefan Sanderling took his listeners on a musical journey through Scotland.

The concert opened with “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise,” which the Boston Pops commissioned Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to write in 1985. Born in Manchester, England, Davies had lived in the Scottish Orkney Islands since 1970, and after depicting a local wedding and its drunken aftermath, this 13-minute piece concludes with the next day’s sunrise, “denoted,” in Davies’ words, “by the entry of the bagpipe.” Kilt-clad Manchester (CT)-based piper Mike MacNintch processed dramatically from the rear of the Bushnell’s Belding Theater to the stage, and the delighted audience rewarded him, the HSO, and Sanderling with a standing ovation for their vivid performance of this colorful score.

Gareth Johnson
The evening’s second soloist, violinist Gareth Johnson, was next featured in a riveting account of Bruch’s 1880 “Scottish Fantasy,” whose four movements quote several Scottish folk songs. With technical flair and an interpretive maturity beyond his thirty-two years, the accomplished soloist captured all the piece’s varied moods, from the poignancy of the opening “Prelude,” the buoyancy of the surging “Allegro,” the ardor of the lyrical “Andante Sostenuto,” to the bracing grandeur of the “Finale.” HSO principal harpist Julie Spring excelled in her featured role, while orchestra and conductor provided exemplary support.

Intermission was followed by a thrilling rendition of Mendelssohn’s third symphony, inspired by his 1829 visit to Scotland and nicknamed the “Scottish” symphony by the composer himself, who quotes not a single folk tune in its four movements, which are played without pause. From the brooding opening and stormy development of the “Andante…Allegro,” to the exuberant high spirits of the “Vivace,” the sublime rapture of the “Adagio,” and the lively excitement, then majesty of the finale, Sanderling drew passionate, committed playing from all sections of the ensemble.

Son of the late legendary conductor Kurt Sanderling, whose gravitas he mixed with a lighter touch, Stefan Sanderling made a distinguished HSO debut with this program and, from the audience’s warm reception, he would be welcome to return anytime.