Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 6, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Brass & Brahms

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 2–4, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

To open the second “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 75th anniversary season, guest conductor Thomas Wilkins, Music Director of the Omaha Symphony since 2005, selected Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s first published work, his “Little Suite” for strings. Dating from 1888, when Nielsen was 23 years old, its three short movements were expressively played by the HSO string section under Wilkins’s subtle, restrained leadership.

HSO Horn Section
The concert continued with the 1850 “Konzertstuck” (Concert Piece) for the unlikely combination of four horns and orchestra by Robert Schumann. The brash fanfare which opens the first of its three short movements introduces a variety of technical challenges over the next 20 minutes for the four soloists, in this case all members of the HSO horn section. Principal Barbara Hill and her colleagues John Michael Adair, Hilary Ledebuhr, and Nick Rubenstein made it a showpiece for their notoriously demanding instrument, and they received spirited backing from Wilkins and the orchestra.

Intermission was followed by a dramatic account of the 1883 third symphony by Schumann’s protégé Johannes Brahms. The quietest of the composer’s four symphonies, it was refreshing to hear the opening “Allegro con brio” movement played with more vigor than usual, as Brahms wanted. But Wilkins’s flexible approach also gave full play to the flowing languor of the “Andante” second movement and the reflective melancholy of the “Poco allegretto” third movement before the energetic “Allegro” finale subsides into a peaceful hushed close. The conductor’s focused direction elicited sensitive and committed playing from the ensemble.

The Saturday audience was so pleased with it that the program closed with an encore, a blazing rendition of the closing “Furiant” from the 1879 Czech Suite by Antonin Dvorak, a composer much admired and even mentored by Brahms. Here Wilkins was more animated than he had been all evening, and his warm reception suggested that his HSO debut this weekend should not be his last Hartford appearance.