Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 13, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Chopin, and Franck

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
December 6-8, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

For the third Masterworks program of the HSO’s 76th season, guest conductor Laura Jackson, Music Director of the Reno Philharmonic, selected three nineteenth-century masterpieces with strong musical connections to Paris, France.

The concert opened with the best-known work by lifelong Parisian teacher and composer Paul Dukas, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Based on a poem by Goethe and dating from 1897, the 11-minute symphonic poem was featured in Walt Disney’s movie “Fantasia,” where Mickey Mouse memorably portrayed the hapless title character. The gracefully kinetic Maestra and her musicians played the colorful score with brilliance and conviction.

Daniela Liebman
This was followed with a captivating HSO debut by seventeen-year-old Mexican pianist Daniela Liebman in an elegant performance of Chopin’s second piano concerto. Though written by the nineteen-year-old composer in 1829, a year before he left his native Warsaw for Paris, it reflects both his Polish heritage and the delicacy of French musical style. Combining technical finesse with remarkable interpretive maturity, Liebman brought majesty and vigor to the opening “Maestoso” movement, tenderness to the lyrical “Larghetto,” and jubilance to the mazurka-like closing “Allegro.” Conductor and orchestra offered full-bodied support throughout.

An enthusiastic standing ovation brought Liebman back to the keyboard for a generous encore, Chopin’s 8-minute third Ballade, in a dazzlingly intense rendition. An overhead camera helpfully projected her finger work in both pieces on a large screen behind the stage of the Bushnell’s Belding Theater.

The program closed after intermission with a blazing account of the once popular but now rarely heard (as Jackson lamented in brief introductory comments – this was also the HSO’s first-ever performance of it) Symphony in D minor by Belgian-born, Paris-based teacher, organist, and composer Cesar Franck. Written in 1888, the distinctive lush harmonies of its three lengthy movements all grow out of a three-note motif that opens the symphony.

Jackson’s pliant baton lingered over quiet slow passages between dramatic peaks in the opening “Lento-Allegro,” led HSO principal harpist Susan Knapp Thomas and principal horn Barbara Hill through a radiant duet in the alternately lilting and scurrying “Allegretto,” and threw caution to the winds in a joyous “Allegro” finale.

The appreciative audience made it clear that this animated and resourceful conductor would be welcomed back to Hartford anytime.