Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 4, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s Firsts

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 30–December 2, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

To open the second “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 75th anniversary season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan selected the elegant “Polonaise” from Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin.” The orchestra’s stately and refined account set a festive tone for the evening.

Szymon Nehring
The program continued with a sensational HSO debut by rising 23-year-old Polish pianist Szymon Nehring in a full-blooded performance of perhaps the best known of all piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s first. From the majestic introduction, through the lyrical Andante and the rip-roaring finale, Nehring, now a student of Boris Berman at the Yale School of Music, skillfully varied his touch from delicate to thundering as the music ran its volatile course. In a novel and engaging use of technology, an image of the keyboard was projected on a large screen above the Belding stage as Nehring played, making his fluid fingers visible throughout the hall. Kuan and the HSO supported him with equal passion and precision.  

A standing ovation brought Nehring back on stage for a dazzling rendition of the lively “Russian Dance,” one of three movements which Igor Stravinsky arranged for solo piano from his ballet “Petrushka” for Artur Rubinstein, who could hardly have done it better than his fellow Pole.

The concert closed after intermission with a vibrant account of Tchaikovsky’s seldom-heard first symphony, called “Winter Dreams” by the young composer, who wrote it when still in his mid-twenties. Despite its sometimes-episodic structure and slightly bombastic finale, the symphony often foreshadows the colorful orchestration and melodic genius of the mature Tchaikovsky. Committed playing by all HSO sections under Kuan’s dynamic leadership, from the haunting “Allegro” opening, through the dreamy “Adagio cantabile,” elfin “Scherzo,” and spirited finale, made a strong case for the piece.

Just before the symphony, Kuan tearfully recalled the sudden passing in October of HSO assistant principal cellist Eric Dahlin and expressed the musicians’ sorrow at his loss with a single red rose at his chair and a heartfelt performance of the “Nimrod” movement from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” This was a classy tribute to a beloved, world-class musician, who will be sadly missed by Hartford audiences.