Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 10, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony, Copland & Gershwin

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
April 6–8, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the seventh “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, HSO Assistant Conductor Adam Kerry Boyles stepped in on short notice for guest conductor Laura Jackson, who had been scheduled to lead these concerts but cancelled due to illness. The program of four works by three American composers remained unchanged.
It opened with a bracing rendition of Copland’s “Outdoor Overture,” written in 1938 for the student orchestra at the High School of Music and Art in New York City. In the composer’s own words, “the piece starts in a large and grandiose manner,” introduces four major themes, two of them march rhythms, until “at a climactic moment, all the themes are combined [and] a brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.” Boyles and the full HSO played it to the hilt.
Alessio Bax

The first half concluded with a full-blooded account of Gershwin’s 1925 “Concerto in F” for piano and orchestra, featuring soloist Alessio Bax in his HSO debut. Born in Italy 40 years ago, Bax has lived in the United States for over 20 years, clearly absorbing the American idiom of Gershwin’s sound. From the jazzy Charleston-based opening Allegro, through the blues-inflected central nocturne, to the “orgy of rhythms,” as the composer put it, in the finale, Bax’s playing was nuanced and virtuosic, with enthusiastic backing from Boyles and the ensemble. 

The newest piece on the program in another HSO debut was “Rainbow Body,” written in 2000 by Christopher Theofanidis and performed after intermission. Based on a chant by the 12th century German Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen, which it quotes several times, the piece tries, as the composer notes, “to capture a halo around this melody…by emphasizing the lingering reverberations one might hear in an old cathedral.” The warm Belding acoustic nicely conveyed this halo in a sensitive performance by Boyles and the HSO.

The concert aptly closed with a suite from Copland’s ballet “Billy the Kid” on which he interrupted work to write the “Outdoor Overture.” Its colorful presentation under an animated Boyles brought the evening to a crowd-pleasing close.