Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 26, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Spotlight Series

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
January 22-February 17, 2021
by Michael J. Moran


The third 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 February 17, 2021, at 5:00 pm. 

Jeffrey Krieger

Entitled “Music for Cello Quartet,” it included five pieces by Corrette, Albinoni, Ravel, Gruetzmacher, and Piazzolla and was filmed in a colorfully lit recording studio at Parkville Sounds in Hartford. The four HSO cellists featured are: Principal cello Jeffrey Krieger; Assistant Principal cello Jia Cao; and cello section members Cara Cheung and Peter Zay. The full ensemble performs every piece. 


The diverse program opened with a charming and elegant account of eighteenth-century French composer Michel Corrette’s three-movement “Le Phenix” Concerto. Next came an impassioned reading of seventeenth-century Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni’s more familiar “Adagio,” which, as Cheung noted, has turned up in film soundtracks from “Flashdance” and “Gallipoli” to “Manchester by the Sea.”


The concert’s centerpiece was also its unlikeliest selection – an arrangement by British cellist James Barralet of Maurice Ravel’s 1928 orchestral showpiece “Bolero.” While not replicating the famous snare drum part, the cello can produce a range of percussive sounds, and this quartet bowed, plucked, and tapped their way through the single crescendo theme with lively enthusiasm and surprising sonic variety. New harmonies even emerged from time to time that are not heard in the original version.      


This was followed by a stately reading of the “Consecration Hymn” by nineteenth-century German cellist (the only one among these five composers) Friedrich Gruetzmacher, to whom Zay traced a personal connection through several generations of teachers. The program ended in a blaze of energy with Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla’s exuberant 1974 “Libertango.”


The Parkville acoustics were appropriately warm and rich. It was refreshing to see the musicians comfortably dressed in casual attire, and the personal stories they told about their relationships with the cello while introducing the music through Covid masks they wore throughout the concert helpfully bridged some of the distance they must feel from their traditionally live audience. HSO Board Vice Chair Diane Whitney brought additional warmth in her brief welcome and closing remarks.