Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 15, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Rhapsody in Blue

Hartford Symphony, The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
October 11-13, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

To launch the HSO’s 76th anniversary season and her own 9th season as its Music Director, Carolyn Kuan selected an all-American program which fittingly began with the traditional season-opening singalong national anthem, backed by a projection of the American flag behind the stage of the Belding Theater at the Bushnell.

The concert proper kicked off in high gear with Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide Overture.” In an elegant, refined account, Kuan’s careful balancing of orchestral sections at a barely restrained tempo revealed more inner detail than often emerges in a live performance of this exuberant score, but with no loss of the requisite excitement.

Kevin Cole
Long recognized as one of the world’s leading Gershwin pianists, Kevin Cole next played  an energetic rendition of that composer’s virtuosic “I Got Rhythm” Variations, followed by an even more bracing presentation of his jazzy “Rhapsody in Blue.” Kuan and the musicians supported him with panache in both works, particularly principal clarinetist Curt Blood’s sinuous take on the opening clarinet solo in “Rhapsody.” Standing ovations brought Cole back on stage for two solo encores: his own dazzling embellishments on Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” and, one more time, “I Got Rhythm.”

In a brief interview by Kuan between pieces, Cole told her that he had probably played “Rhapsody” over a thousand times by now. Even more remarkably, he has been deaf in one ear since 2018.

The concert closed after intermission with a vibrant account of what many critics consider “the great American symphony,” Aaron Copland’s third. Written in 1944-1946, it incorporates the composer’s famous 1942 “Fanfare for the Common Man” in its last movement. Committed playing by all HSO sections under Kuan’s dynamic leadership, from a spacious opening “Molto moderato,” through a forceful “Allegro molto,” a brooding “Andantino quasi allegretto,” and a stirring final “Molto deliberato – Allegro risoluto,” made a strong case for the piece.

The American theme of this program was also appropriate to follow the third annual naturalization ceremony in which this year ten Connecticut residents became new citizens of the United States on the Belding stage just before the Saturday concert.