Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 15, 2022

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven’s Ninth

Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT
June 10-12, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran

For the ninth and final “Masterworks” weekend of their current season, HSO Assistant Conductor Adam Boyles and the orchestra went all out with a spectacular program of two contrasting masterpieces from 1995 (Philip Glass’s “Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra”) and 1824 (Beethoven’s “Choral” symphony). 

Few composers have written concertos for even one saxophone, so Glass’ piece featuring four of them was a rare treat, especially as exuberantly played by the Hartford-based Resurgam (“I shall rise again” in Latin) Quartet, formed at the Hartt School in 2015. The first movement was gentle and flowing, the second jazzier, with a raucous duet by soprano sax Harry Kliewe and alto sax Colette Hall, the third quietly mesmerizing, with flashy solos by tenor sax Sean Tanguay and baritone sax Michael Raposo, and the finale a whirlwind dash to the finish line.    

Their crowd-pleasing encore, the perpetual motion finale of John Mackey’s 2012 “Unquiet Spirit” saxophone quartet, was played with all the staggering “barn burner” virtuosity demanded by its American composer.    

The concert ended with a grippingly dramatic account of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. For scope of ambition, length and variety of content, and sheer grandeur of impact, this iconic work was unprecedented in its time and only challenged in the following two centuries by Gustav Mahler. The opening movement was eerie and forceful; the “Molto vivace” scherzo, visceral and relentless; the “Adagio” slow movement, radiant and enthralling; and the choral finale, which included the Hartford Chorale, prepared by their music director, Richard Coffey, and four vocal soloists, built powerfully to a thrilling close.

Baritone Sumner Thompson vividly proclaimed the recitative which introduces the chorus singing Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” a poem Beethoven had long admired. Thompson blended beautifully in later passages with crystalline soprano Jamilyn Manning-White, lush mezzo-soprano Margaret Lias, and supple tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts.      

With a range of dynamic gestures, Boyles drew playing of deep conviction and technical polish from all sections of the orchestra, particularly the brass and percussion members whose skills were showcased throughout the program. His evident rapport with musicians and audience alike suggests that his leadership of more HSO subscription concerts would be welcome.