Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 7, 2019

REVIEW: Beethoven’s 5th, Hartford Symphony Orchestra

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
May 3–5, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

The three pieces on the eighth “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season, led by their Music Director Carolyn Kuan, packed about as much musical variety as possible into a single concert, thanks largely to the featured soloists, genre-defying string trio Time for Three (Tf3).

The program opened with a shattering performance by the large orchestra of the “Four Sea Interludes” from Benjamin Britten’s 1945 opera “Peter Grimes.” Reflecting the tortured soul of the title character, a fisherman on the Suffolk coast of England, where Britten grew up, the music also evokes the overwhelming power of nature over the lives of his village community. Kuan and the HSO captured the full range of its shifting moods and colors.

Time for Three (Tf3)
Consisting of violinists Nick Kendall and Charles Yang and double bassist Ranaan Meyer, Tf3 next came bounding out on stage to join the orchestra in Jennifer Higdon’s “Concerto 4-3,” written for and dedicated to them in 2007. Inspired by the bluegrass music she heard growing up in East Tennessee, it “incorporates,” in Higdon’s words, “Tf3’s unique string techniques … mimicking everything from squeaking mice to electric guitars.” The casual attire and rock star motions of the energetic trio added visual thrills to the concerto’s fast-slow-fast movements, titled “The Shallows,” “Little River,” and “Roaring Smokies.”

Kuan and the HSO clearly enjoyed letting their hair down with Tf3 here and in the first of their two dazzling encores: a tribute to Beethoven written by the band and sung by Yang; and an uninhibited take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

The concert closed after intermission with a forceful account of perhaps the best known symphony by any composer, Beethoven’s fifth. Written over a four-year period (1804-1808) when, as Yang had just sung, the composer was about two-thirds deaf, its four movements depict the typical symphonic progression through struggle to victory.

From the iconic opening four-note motif of the stormy “Allegro con brio” first movement, through the calm “Andante con moto” and the tempestuous “Allegro” scherzo, to the triumphant final “Allegro,” conductor and orchestra reveled not only in the vigor and clarity of Beethoven’s notes but in the sheer joy of music-making that even his deafness could never take from him and that everyone on the Belding stage exuded.