Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 22, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Bach & Beyond

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
January 18–19, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Lisa Rautenberg
The fourth “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season showcased their own concertmaster Leonid Sigal and associate concertmaster Lisa Rautenberg as guest conductors in a varied selection of music by or related to Johann Sebastian Bach.

The concert opened with two short pieces by French contemporaries of Bach: the overture to Rameau’s opera-ballet “The Temple of Glory;” and a chaconne from Lully’s opera “Phaeton.” Yale early music specialist Grant Herreid played theorbo (14-string bass lute) in both works, and baroque dancer Carlos Fittante added graceful movements to the chaconne, a stately dance for the court of Louis XIV. Rautenberg led a reduced HSO in animated performances.

Rautenberg then picked up her violin to play the solo part, and lead the ensemble from the bow, in a supple account of Bach’s first violin concerto. In his familiar third orchestral suite, Rautenberg drew fleet renditions of all five movements from her musicians, with an especially flowing “Air” on the G string.  

The concert’s first half closed with two rarities: the “Gran Chacona,” a secular song by Bach’s Spanish predecessor Juan Aranes; and a sonata-variations on the traditional theme, “La Follia,” by his Italian contemporary Vivaldi. Herreid returned to introduce, sing, and play baroque guitar in the Chacona, which he had researched and reconstructed (relishing the robust “a la vida bona” [to the good life] chorus). Both pieces featured loving accompaniment by Rautenberg and the orchestra and stylish poise, with elegant period costumes, from Fittante and fellow dancer Robin Gilbert Campos.  

Intermission was followed by two relative novelties from twentieth-century composers. Villa-Lobos’s “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9” for string orchestra combines rhythms of the composer’s native Brazil with Bach’s beloved “prelude and fugue” structure. The Bach-era title of Jacques Ibert’s “Divertissement” suggests the light entertainment value of this colorfully orchestrated piece, which includes hilarious parodies of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” and Strauss’s “Blue Danube” waltz. Sigal’s kinetic leadership elicited both the profundity of Villa-Lobos and the pzazz of Ibert.

The cross-generational appeal of this imaginative program was clear to an eight-year-old patron who had enjoyed the singer, dancers, and “circus clown” sounds she heard in “Divertissement.”