Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 22, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony, Latin Lovers, Hartford Symphony Orchestra

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
February 15–17, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Red roses in the hair or lapels of many Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) members set a festive Valentine’s weekend tone for the fifth “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season. Led by their Assistant Conductor Adam Boyles, it featured five Latin-style works by four composers, all but one HSO premieres.

The concert opened with the only piece likely to be familiar to many listeners, Aaron Copland’s “El Salon Mexico,” written in 1936 and last played by the HSO in 1999. Named, according to the composer, after a “Harlem-type nightclub” he had visited in Mexico City, its original melodies are based on Mexican popular themes and dance rhythms. A lively performance under Boyles’ animated baton got the evening off to a foot-tapping start, which never let up from then on.

Julien Labro
Next came two works by Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla which featured the bandoneon, a South American concertina, and French-born soloist Julien Labro. Playing his instrument as it rested on his knee after he placed his right foot on a bench, Labro produced a colorful range of sonorities in both the energetic 1974 “Libertango” and the more virtuosic three-movement 1979 “Concerto for Bandoneon, String Orchestra, and Percussion.” The HSO and Boyles had a field day in both pieces.  

A warm ovation brought Labro back for an encore, which he played on an accordina, a mouth-blown cross between a harmonica and an accordion. With lush accompaniment from orchestra and conductor, he gave a loving account of the main theme from the Italian film “Il Postino.”

Intermission was followed by the most dramatic music of the evening, “Three Latin American Dances,” written in 2004 by Peruvian-American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Inspired by Bernstein’s “West Side Story” Symphonic Dances (from which Boyles led a thundering audience-participation “Mambo” as a closing encore), it showcased a battery of exotic percussion, including bongos, thunder sheet, and rain stick. Joyous renditions of these dances and of Mexican composer Arturo Marquez’s sumptuous, nostalgic 1994 “Danzon No. 2” sent the enthusiastic audience home in a romantic glow.

Attendees at Boyles’ entertaining and informative pre-concert talk caught the mood early in a sensual tango lesson by elegant dancers Chantelle Johnson and Kadeem Jordan from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Bloomfield.