Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 25, 2019

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Italian and Brahms

Springfield Symphony, Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
February 23, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

A more appropriate title for this concert might have been “A Superstar Is Born.” When the scheduled violin soloist, SSO favorite Rachel Barton Pine, was forced by a short-term health issue to cancel, William Hagen stepped in to replace her with less than two weeks’ notice. To retain the original program, he learned a new piece and prepared one of the most difficult works in the standard repertoire, both of which he did in a triumphant local debut.

Continuing the SSO’s 75th anniversary seasonal focus on American women composers, the program opened with short pieces by two of them. First up was the four-minute “Prayer and Celebration,” an “homage to Mahler,” which Augusta Read Thomas wrote in 2006 for her alma mater, St. Paul’s School, in New Hampshire. Next came Amy Beach’s 1893 “Romance,” originally for violin and piano, in a recent transcription by Chris Trotman for solo violin, harp, and strings.

Both received lush, lyrical performances from an ensemble which included members of the SSO and the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The “Romance” featured Hagen as well, who shaded his tone from robust to delicate in capturing the warmth of this lovely eight-minute confection.

The SSO then turned in a powerful rendition of Mendelssohn’s fourth, or “Italian,” symphony, to round out the concert’s first half. From a surging opening “Allegro vivace,” to a fleet “Andante con moto,” a flowing “Con modo moderato,” and a rambunctious closing “Saltarello-Presto,” Rhodes coaxed an urgent energy from his musicians that never flagged. 

William Hagen
The high point of the evening was Hagen’s riveting account of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The opening “Allegro non troppo” was broad and spacious, with the 26-year-old, Utah-born soloist balancing interpretive maturity with technical skill, especially in the demanding five-minute cadenza. Duetting stunningly with SSO principal oboe Nancy Dimock in the central “Adagio,” and playing vigorously through the “Allegro giocoso” finale, Hagen achieved a strong rapport with Rhodes and the fervent orchestra.

After a thunderous standing ovation, Hagen presented a whirlwind solo encore of the “Allegro assai” finale from Bach’s Sonata in C. The return of this charismatic artist to Springfield would be welcomed in a heartbeat.