Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 15, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Vaughan Williams & Mendelssohn

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
April 12–14, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

In addition to three pieces by two composers, the seventh “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season, led by their Music Director Carolyn Kuan, featured soprano and baritone soloists as well as the 160 male and female singers of the Hartford Chorale.

The concert opened with perhaps the best known piece, if also one of the shortest, by British master Ralph Vaughan Williams, his “Fantasia on Greensleeves.” A collector of English folk songs, the composer arranged this beloved tune in 1928 for flute, harp, and strings, adding new melodic elements to produce one of his loveliest creations. The account by Kuan and the HSO was ravishing.

In 1936, as if foreseeing the return of war to Europe, Vaughan Williams, an ambulance driver in World War I, set several war-related poems by Walt Whitman, a Parliamentary speech against the Crimean War, part of the Latin Mass, and several Biblical texts in his cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”), for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The work begins and ends quietly, with the soprano singing the title prayer, but through its five-movement, 37-minute length, it reaches turbulent climaxes in the Whitman poems “Beat! Beat! Drums!” and “Dirge for Two Veterans” (father and son).    

Soprano Jamilyn Manning-White’s singing was tender and luminous; baritone Yunpeng Wang’s solos were robust and sturdy; Chorale members sang with passion and precision. Kuan and an enlarged HSO offered dramatic support.

Hartford Chorale
The cantata and Mendelssohn’s rarely heard second symphony, which followed intermission, were HSO premieres. Bearing the title “Lobgesang” (“Hymn of Praise”), the 1840 symphony celebrates the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Three short instrumental movements form a 25-minute prelude to the 40-minute choral finale.  Especially in light of thrilling performances by the HSO, Manning-White, and the Chorale, it was disappointing that Kuan omitted six of the finale’s ten sections.

Hartford Chorale Music Director Richard Coffey took a well-earned bow at the evening’s close, and his Chorale colleagues Executive Director Alan Mann, Assistant Music Director Jack Anthony Pott, and Accompanist James R. Barry were deservedly credited in the program book for helping prepare the scrupulous work of their singers.