Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 15, 2022

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky

The Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT
April 8-10, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

For the seventh “Masterworks” weekend of their current season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan and the HSO presented two popular Russian favorites that have both earned the sometimes derogatory nickname “warhorses” but which continue to reward close listening in performances as fine as these. 

Henry Kramer
The program opened with a riveting account by rising Maine native Henry Kramer of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, written in 1909 as a vehicle for the composer-pianist to play on his first American concert tour. Having started his piano studies at the relatively late age of 11, Kramer is an acclaimed international soloist and competition winner and has taught at multiple music schools.  That experience was evident in his total command of the immense technical challenges posed by the “Rach 3” and the invariable sensitivity of his interpretive choices.

From the soft melancholy opening theme to the massive original cadenza of the Allegro through the hushed radiance of the Intermezzo and the visceral excitement of the Finale, Kuan and the HSO offered their stellar pianist thrilling and committed support. The Belding’s overhead “piano cam” showed the remarkable dexterity and almost nonstop motion of Kramer’s hands in both the concerto and his fluid encore rendition of Chopin’s exuberant D major prelude in response to a standing ovation.  

The concert closed with a vibrant interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony, a sort of 1888 comeback piece after a three-year silence from the composer, which Kuan led and the musicians played with blazing conviction. A somber opening “fate” motive led into an animated Allegro first movement; principal horn Barbara Hill’s solo in the Andante cantabile was tender and restrained; the Allegro moderato waltz was graceful and fleet; and the jubilant Finale transformed “fate” into majestic triumph. For sheer rightness of tempo and balance of shifting moods, this performance set an exceedingly high standard. 

The HSO’s next “Masterworks” program, “Scheherazade & Shankar,” will feature Kuan and sitar player Anupama Bhagwat on May 6-8, 2022.