Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 6, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky & Grieg

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
December 3-5, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

For their third “Masterworks” weekend of the season, HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan surrounded a holiday stalwart by Tchaikovsky with two popular favorites by Grieg to celebrate the orchestra’s recent return to live performance in a festive atmosphere. Like last month, she paused after the opening piece to welcome late arrivers and thank the audience (all masked, like most of the musicians, including Kuan) for their presence to enthusiastic applause.

That opening piece was the familiar first suite from Grieg’s 1876 incidental music to Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt,” imaginatively preceded by two selections from the less familiar second suite. A dramatic “Abduction of the Bride & Ingrid’s Lament” was followed by a turbulent “Peer Gynt’s Homeward Journey,” a limpid “Morning,” a poignant “Ase’s Death,” a delicate “Anitra’s Dance,” and a blazing “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” 
The last four numbers of Act I offered a bracingly different perspective on Tchaikovsky’s 1892 “Nutcracker” ballet than the better-known suite drawn mainly from Act II. A sparkling “Clara and the Nutcracker” led into a hair-raising “Battle” scene between the Mouse King and his troops of mice and the Nutcracker and his army of gingerbread men, a colorful “Journey through the Snow” by Clara and the victorious Nutcracker (now transformed into a handsome Prince), and an exuberant “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” The HSO played with glowing conviction, but the percussionists had a field day with their huge array of instruments, visibly swaying to the music’s pulsing rhythms. 

Gabriela Martinez
The concert closed with a stunning account of Grieg’s famous 1868 piano concerto by rising young Venezuelan-born pianist Gabriela Martinez. She brought commanding technical finesse and interpretive depth to a forceful opening “Allegro molto moderato,” a melting central “Adagio,” and an alternately energetic and radiant finale. Orchestra and conductor were fully committed partners. 

An overhead camera helpfully projected an enlarged soloist’s-eye view of the keyboard onto a screen above the stage so that everyone in the Belding Theater could see the grace, dexterity, and power with which Martinez’s flexible hands manipulated the keys. 

The HSO’s next “Masterworks” program, “From the New World,” will feature guest conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson and pianist Michelle Cann on January 14-16, 2022.