Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 14, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Stravinsky & Swan Lake

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
March 9–11, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the sixth “Masterworks Series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan presented three works by the two seminal composers of Russian ballet music: two by Stravinsky, and one by Tchaikovsky. Two were originally written as ballets, and the third was choreographed later.
The concert opened with an energetic account of Stravinsky’s “Game of Cards,” a 1936 “ballet in three deals” which depicts a game of poker in “Baden-Baden of the Romantic Age,” inspired by the composer’s memories of Germany between the two world wars. The characters are all cards, and after winning the first two deals, the joker is defeated in the third deal by a royal flush of hearts. Kuan and the agile HSO winds, brass, and strings nicely captured the mischievous spirit of the music.

The first half concluded with a dramatic rendition of Stravinsky’s 1945 “Symphony in Three Movements,” reflecting the turmoil of World War II and choreographed by George Balanchine for a 1972 New York City Ballet Stravinsky festival. The propulsive rhythms of the outer movements and the quiet charm of the inner slow movement sounded very danceable in this measured performance, which built steadily to a shattering close. The percussive harp and piano texture of the symphony contrasted sharply with the more refined sound world of the preceding card game.
The highlight of the program came after intermission, when the orchestra played seven selections from the first of Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets, “Swan Lake,” for two of which they were joined by Boston Ballet principal dancers Dalay Parrondo and Yuri Yanowsky. As the beautiful princess Odette, transformed by a curse into a white swan, and the handsome prince Siegfried, who falls in love with her as a woman, they graced the Belding stage with first the rapture of new love and later its power to break the curse by uniting them forever in death.

The energizing presence of the dancers drew carefully shaded playing of deep emotion from the orchestra, lively and committed leadership from Kuan, and enthusiastic applause from an audience that was clearly riveted by a heady evening.