Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 24, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Spotlight Series

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
through June 13, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

The seventh and final episode of the HSO’s monthly virtual “Spotlight Series” of 60-minute concerts by HSO ensembles is now available on-demand at the orchestra’s website through June 13, 2021. Filmed at four different Hartford area venues and entitled “Spotlight: Mixtape,” it featured 26 HSO musicians performing in six separate groups and playing music by seven diverse composers for a variety of instruments.

The HSO Brass Quintet (trumpeters Scott McIntosh and John Charles Thomas, hornists Barbara Hill and Brian Diehl, and Adam Crowe on tuba) opened on a celebratory note with Gwyneth Walker’s rousing 1987 “Raise the Roof!,” complete with hand and foot tapping in the rhythm of carpenters rebuilding a Vermont concert hall. The HSO String Quartet (violinists Lisa Rautenberg and Martha Kayser, violist Nicholas Borghoff, and cellist Jeffrey Krieger) followed with a stately account of Georg Philipp Telemann’s elegant 1761 “Don Quixote Overture.”

HSO percussionists Robert McEwan, David West, Douglas Perry, and Evan Glickman and timpanist Eugene Bozzi next gave a knockout performance of Christopher Rouse’s 1976 Voodoo-inspired “Ogoun Badagris,” based on Haitian drumming patterns, and ending with all players shouting “Reler” (“Amen”). HSO violinist Lu Sun Friedman’s poignant account of Edith Piaf’s difficult life made the loving rendition by the Mosaic Trio (Friedman, violist Patricia Daly Vance, and cellist Peter Zay) of her “La Vie en Rose” the program’s emotional heart.

Carolyn Kuan

The A Piacere (“At Your Pleasure”) Quartet (violinists Jaroslaw Lis and Deborah Tyler, violist Michael Wheeler, and cellist Jia Cao) then tore into Astor Piazzolla’s 1988 “Four for Tango,” written for the Kronos Quartet, with passion, panache, and birdlike sound effects. The HSO Wind Quintet (flutist Dominique Kim, oboist Cheryl Bishkoff, clarinetist Eddie Sundra, bassoonist Pinghua Ren, and hornist Barbara Hill) played Jeff Scott’s 2014 “Startin Sumthin,” a “modern wind quintet take on swing music,” in Kim’s words, with joyous flights of jazzy humor.

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan closed the concert leading a slightly reduced orchestra on the Bushnell’s Belding stage in an exuberant Brahms “Hungarian Dance #5,” presaging the HSO’s welcome return to Covid-safe live performance when their Talcott Mountain Music Festival opens in Simsbury on July 2.

May 13, 2021

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Concert 3

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
through May 21, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

After short weekly “Homegrown” videos of themselves performing individually at home and several lecture/music education events via Zoom, SSO musicians are now presenting a series of three hour-long chamber music concerts. The third and last one, filmed at Focus Springfield Community TV and available for on-demand streaming at the SSO web site through May 21, featured: a percussion trio; a string quartet; and a string trio. 

SSO Music Director Kevin Rhodes introduced each piece on the program with typical gusto, and program notes by the performers offered additional background information. Percussionist Nathan Lassell opened with an entertaining solo performance of Rick Dior’s improvisation “Brush Up” for two brushes and snare drum. Featuring brush techniques like “rim flutters…staccato sweeps [and] one-handed tremolos,” it was as much fun to watch as Lassell says it is to play.  

Delores Thayer
The string quartet (violinists Masako Yanagita and Marsha Harbison, violist Delores Thayer, and cellist Boris Kogan) next played what Rhodes called the “anything can happen” “Allegretto” movement of Beethoven’s eighth quartet with close attention to the frequent shifts of rhythm and dynamics, bringing special fervor to the Russian patriotic song quoted in the middle section. The string trio (violinist Beth Welty, violist Noralee Walker, and cellist Joel Wolfe) then played two movements of Beethoven’s early Mozart-like first string trio with graceful flair (in the “Andante”) and spirited humor (in the “Menuetto”).

Lassell returned on snare drum for two amusingly titled drum solos – “Cider Jug” and “Conquering Legions of Rome” - by West Point “Hellcats” composer John S. Pratt, with Robert McEwan, who composed and played the bass drum parts. The string trio then preformed the first two movements of Erno Dohnanyi’s 1902 “Serenade,” stirringly in the lively “March” and tenderly in the quiet “Romance,” highlighted by Walker’s soulful viola. 

Percussionist Martin Kluger joined Lassell and McEwan in the last two movements (they had played the first movement in concert #2) of Zivkovic’s exuberant 1995 “Trio Per Uno,” featuring hypnotic vibes and shimmering glass chimes in the hushed “Contemplativo” and, in Kluger’s words, “a ritual ceremony of primitive ferocity [with] thumping tom-toms and vocal outbursts” in the wild closing “Molto energico.” Acoustics were straightforward, with resourceful videography.