Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 15, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Spotlight Series

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
December 11-January 10, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

The second concert in the HSO’s monthly virtual “Spotlight Series” of 60-minute performances
by HSO ensembles and guests recorded at Hartford area venues is now available on-demand at the orchestra’s web site through January 10, 2021, at 5:00 pm. Entitled “Music for Strings and Organ,” it included four pieces by Corelli, Bach, Golijov, and Mendelssohn and was recorded amid festive seasonal d├ęcor at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church, founded in 1864. 

Ten HSO musicians were featured: Concertmaster Leonid Sigal; Associate Concertmaster Lisa Rautenberg; Assistant Concertmaster Sooyeon Kim; Assistant Principal second violin Jaroslav Lis; Principal viola Michael Wheeler; Assistant Principal viola Aekyung Kim; Principal cello Jeffrey Krieger; Assistant Principal cello Gia Cao; Assistant Principal bass Robert Groff; and organist Edward Clark.
The program opened with the whole ensemble in a sprightly account of Arcangelo Corelli’s most famous composition - the eighth of his twelve Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, dating from the 1680s, better known as his “Christmas Concerto.” Its unusual structure of six short movements builds toward a slow pastoral finale, which was played with affecting tenderness. This was followed by Clark’s elegant performances on portable organ of two keyboard preludes written around 1717 by Johann Sebastian Bach.
In his 2000 string quartet “Tenebrae” Argentine-Israeli composer Osvaldo Golijov depicted both political unrest he witnessed in Israel that year and the wonder his five-year-old son felt on seeing the earth from space a week later at the New York planetarium. Sigal, Rautenberg, Wheeler, and Krieger brilliantly rendered the haunting serenity of the long opening and closing sections of this 15-minute single movement, as well as the brief central turmoil which separates them. The program closed with a stirring version by all the string players except Groff of the opening “Allegro moderato ma con fuoco” movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s 1825 octet, written at the remarkable age of sixteen.  
Though the octet’s last three movements were missing, including the iconic “Scherzo,” the warm church acoustics ideally flattered this ensemble. Spoken introductions by different members of the group through Covid masks worn throughout the concert helpfully bridged some of the distance still remaining from their audience.