Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 5, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Mahler 5

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
May 31 – June 2, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

For the final “Masterworks” program of their 75th anniversary season, HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan chose a minor work by one major composer and a towering masterpiece by another. 

Wendy Warner
The minor work was Beethoven’s 1804 “Triple Concerto” for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra, featuring HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal, HSO pianist Margreet Francis, and guest cellist Wendy Warner. The home-town soloists teamed gracefully with world-renowned Chicago native Warner, who won first prize at age 18 in the 1990 International Rostropovich Cello Competition, for an affectionate rendition of this rarely heard work. From a relaxed opening “Allegro,” through a heartfelt central “Largo,” through an ebullient closing “Rondo,” Kuan and the orchestra offered plush accompaniment.

The masterpiece was Mahler’s 1902 fifth symphony, which unfolds over 75 minutes and requires one of the largest orchestras in the symphonic repertoire, including six percussionists. But each of its five movements contains many episodes for only a small number of instruments, and Kuan carefully balanced the full-ensemble passages with those quieter interludes to produce a transparent texture which often had the intimacy of chamber music.

While all sections of the HSO played with passionate intensity, the brass did especially fine work throughout. Principal trumpet Scott McIntosh’s solo fanfare, which opens the “Funeral March” first movement, had technical polish and emotional resonance. Percussion and brass dominated both the “Stormy and vehement” second movement and the lighter, waltz-like “Scherzo” third movement. Lush strings and harp set a hushed tone for the radiant “Adagietto” fourth movement, and the full orchestra turned the closing “Rondo” into an exuberant romp.

This thrilling account of a colorful but challenging work showed off Kuan’s artistry at its finest and ended the eighth year of her HSO tenure on a high note. That artistry is not afraid to aim for perfection, as when she politely stopped after beginning the “Adagietto” until several audience members had stopped talking, so that the nearly silent music could be heard throughout the Belding Theater.

Connecticut’s public television (CPTV) was in the hall recording the concert for future broadcast.