Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 22, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, The Four Seasons

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
January 17-19, 2020
by Michael J. Moran
For the fourth Masterworks program of the HSO’s 76th season, music director Carolyn Kuan selected three works written over 300 years on three different continents, but all with roots in the baroque era.

The concert opened with two HSO premieres. First up was the 2009 “Suite for Lower Strings” by Clarice Assad, whose prolific output mixes classical and jazz elements with the rhythms of her native Brazil (her father is renowned guitarist Sergio Assad). Each of the suite’s five short movements reworks one or more themes by Johann Sebastian Bach with respectful delight. Kuan and her musicians gave the 13-minute piece an engaging spin.    

Next came the inventive 1953 “Variationes Concertantes” by Argentine master Alberto Ginastera. Written in the theme and variations form popular in the baroque era, the 12 variations in this 25-minute work feature brilliant solo passages for many instruments. Kuan took the opportunity to regale the amused audience with “little-known facts” about the soloists who would be playing them, from principal trumpeter Scott McIntosh’s snake whispering hobby to principal clarinetist Curt Blood’s woodworking skill (he even built her podium).     

From the lush opening duet by cellist Peter Zay and principal harpist Susan Knapp Thomas to the virtuosic final variation for full orchestra, conductor and orchestra met the work’s frequent technical challenges with aplomb and rendered its folk-influenced yet expressionistic harmonies with intense commitment.

The program closed after intermission with a lively account of Antonio Vivaldi’s beloved baroque masterpiece, “The Four Seasons.” Written in 1725 for string orchestra with harpsichord accompaniment, it consists of four short (10-minute) concertos of three movements each, named after the four seasons of the year. It was instructive to read how closely the four anonymous sonnets published with the music, and included in the program book, reflect the vivid colors of the music. 
Randall Goosby

Rising American violinist Randall Goosby was a riveting guest soloist in “The Four Seasons,” and his duets with Zay, concertmaster Leonid Sigal, and harpsichordist Edward Clark were special highlights of the performance. A standing ovation led to a dazzling encore of the Presto from Bach’s first violin sonata.

Playing publicly since age nine and still in his early twenties, Goosby has the technical chops and magnetic stage presence for a major career.