Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 26, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Serenades

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
through June 10, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

Having presented virtual hour-long “Spotlight” concerts this past year by HSO ensembles and virtual “Masterworks In-Depth” conversations led by HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan about music they would have played live this season but for Covid, the HSO is now offering a new virtual “Sunday Serenades” concert. Entitled “Sculpture and the Symphony: From Prometheus to Piazzolla,” it was filmed at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s current exhibition “Paul Manship: Ancient Made Modern” and will be available on-demand at the orchestra’s web site through June 10, 2021.

It features eight HSO musicians, led by concertmaster Leonid Sigal, who chats with Wadsworth curator Erin Monroe between musical selections about how those reflect themes in Manship’s bronze sculptures. For example, what Monroe sees as the “sensuous [and] risqué” interpretation of Greek mythology in Manship’s 1914 “Centaur and Dryad” finds a parallel in Astor Piazzolla’s “Milonga sin Palabras” (“Song without Words”), a wistful seven-minute tango rhapsody hauntingly played by violinist Sigal, violist Michael Wheeler, and cellist Jia Cao.

The three compact movements of Samuel Barber’s 1928 “Serenade,” the 17-year-old composer’s first published work, similarly updated this classical music form with modern but lush post-Romantic harmonies in a glowing performance by Sigal, Wheeler, and Cao, with violinist Lisa Rautenberg and bassist Edward R. Rozie, Jr. 

A 1954 arrangement by Austrian musician Franz Hasenohrl reduces Richard Strauss’s 1895 orchestral tone poem “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” to five players and ten minutes (from fifteen) in his “Till Eulenspiegel another way!” This light-hearted parody of a medieval German folk hero was hilariously played by Sigal, Rozie, hornist Barbara Hill, bassoonist Pinghua Felix Ren, and clarinetist Curt Blood.   

Just as Manship’s gilded Prometheus at New York’s Rockefeller Center brought fire to humankind, Beethoven brought new light to music in masterpieces like his solo piano “Eroica Variations” on a theme that he used in multiple works. Sigal led Rautenberg, Wheeler, Cao, and Blood in a brilliant world premiere of his own colorful chamber arrangement. 

The Wadsworth acoustics were intimate against the striking background of Manship’s 1917 “Four Elements.” The musicians clearly felt the same “energy” that Sigal said they’ve found at past “Sunday Serenade” concerts with audiences at the museum.