Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 17, 2022

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Italian

The Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT
March 11-13, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

As a gesture of solidarity with the suffering people of Ukraine and a reminder that music reflects the full range of human experience, Music Director Carolyn Kuan began each concert of the sixth “Masterworks” weekend of their current season by leading the HSO in the Ukrainian national anthem. HSO musicians also wore Ukrainian flag emblems over their hearts. 

The following program surrounded a 21st-century concerto with two popular favorites by Felix Mendelssohn, opening with four numbers from his incidental music for an 1843 Berlin production of Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A playful “Intermezzo,” a radiant “Nocturne,” a mercurial “Scherzo,” and a magisterial “Wedding March” were all performed with conviction and finesse. 

The concert’s centerpiece was American composer Kevin Putz’s Flute Concerto, whose 2013 world premiere in California was led by Kuan. Her humorous spoken introduction included helpful excerpts played by orchestra members and rising Chicago-born soloist Demarre McGill. He met the piece's technical challenges with fluid tone, dexterity, and emotional sensitivity, from a virtuosic first movement (marked “With great sincerity and affection; flexible, with motion”) and a sensuous “Andante” to a rollicking finale (“Very fast, with tremendous energy”). 

The colorful orchestration of Putz’s lush and attractive score, which included a ravishing quotation from Mozart’s twenty-first piano concerto and a joyous round of clapping, offered the musicians, especially the percussionists, many opportunities to show off, which they did with flair and panache.    

The program closed with a blazing account of Mendelssohn’s fourth symphony, which he based on his 1831 travels through Italy and always called his “Italian” symphony. Inspired by Kuan’s animated leadership, the orchestra tore with gusto into an exuberant opening “Allegro vivace,” a stately “Andante con moto,” a tender “Con moto moderato,” and a breathless closing “Saltarello: Presto.” The cohesive power of this performance made it all the more surprising that the composer didn’t allow the work to be published in his lifetime because he doubted its quality. 

The HSO’s next “Masterworks” program, “Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky,” will feature Kuan and pianist Henry Kramer on April 8-10, 2022.