Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 14, 2023

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Symphonie Fantastique"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT 
March 10-12, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

For the fifth program of the HSO’s 2022-2023 “Masterworks” series, Music Director Carolyn Kuan selected contrasting repertoire, including two popular short pieces by a path-breaking African-American composer, a new cello concerto by a leading woman composer, and a one-of-a-kind Romantic symphony by a one-of-a-kind 19th-century composer. 

It opened with two rags by Scott Joplin: “Rag-Time Dance, A Stop-Time Two Step” (1899); and “The Entertainer” (1902) – in orchestral arrangements by composer-conductor-educator Gunther Schuller. The first was excerpted from a ballet, while the second became famous in the score for the 1973 film “The Sting.” Kuan and the HSO’s affable first-ever performances of this music got the concert off to a relaxed, swinging start. 

Inbal Segev
The orchestra extended the dance rhythm theme with Anna Clyne’s 2019 “Dance, Concertofor Cello and Orchestra,” in which Israeli cellist Inbal Segev made her stunning HSO debut. Clyne named its five short movements after lines from a poem by 13
th-century Persian mystic Rumi in which she felt a strong “sense of urgency.” 

Her use of electronic, folk-style, and “Baroque-like” elements - and Segev’s skill in pivoting from dark, rich tone in the opening “when you’re broken open” movement to more abrasive sounds in the next movement, “if you’ve torn the bandage off” - made the attractive musical setting feel timeless. Conductor and orchestra were committed partners. Segev’s heartfelt encore, the “Sarabande” from Bach’s third suite for solo cello, reinforced the calm simplicity of Clyne’s “when you’re perfectly free” finale. 

No composer who preceded or followed him ever wrote music that sounded quite like that of French composer Hector Berlioz. In 1827 Berlioz fell in love with English actress Harriet Smithson on seeing her in Paris as Shakespeare’s Juliet and Ophelia. In 1830, he chronicled his unrequited love for her (they eventually wed, but the marriage failed) in his five-movement “Symphonie Fantastique.” 

Kuan and the HSO gave the  a thrilling ride, from a dramatic “Reveries [and] Passions,” a light, graceful “Ball,” a ravishing “Scene in the Country,” an exuberant “March to the Scaffold” (after the lover hallucinates that he’s killed his beloved), to a riotous closing “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” (the lover’s own funeral rites) – a sacred/profane mix that still galvanizes audiences two centuries later.