Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 23, 2023

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra,"Dvorak & Price"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT 
October 20-22, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

For the second weekend of their 2023-2024 “Masterworks” series, HSO’s Music Director,
Carolyn Kuan, bracketed an HSO premiere of a recent rediscovery with two established masterworks of the high Romantic era. 

The concert opened with a highly charged reading of Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture.” Written in 1880, alongside his more upbeat “Academic Festival Overture,” the composer noted that while “one overture laughs, the other weeps.” From two forceful opening chords, through a somber main theme, a tender contrasting lyrical theme, a turbulent development section, and a powerful close, Kuan and her musicians fully honored what Brahms called his “melancholy nature.” 

Melissa White
Next came the sleeper hit of the program, Florence Price’s first violin concerto. Dating from 1939 but unperformed in public until 2019, ten years after it was found among her lost manuscripts, this appealing piece is quickly gaining its rightful place in the repertory. No finer performance could be imagined than that of HSO 2023-2024 Joyce C. Willis Artist in Residence, violinist Melissa White. Her silken tone and technical finesse captured the charm and drama of the opening “Tempo moderato,” the blues-inflected African-American flavor of the “Andante,” and the fiery excitement of the closing “Allegro.” Kuan and the HSO were robust partners. 

A standing ovation brought White back for a ravishing encore account of the hushed “Adagio” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s third sonata for solo violin, in which she held the rapt audience in the palms of her hands. 

The concert ended with a blazing rendition of Antonin Dvorak’s 1884 seventh symphony. Though less popular with the public than his later “New World” symphony, Dvorak is known to have called the seventh his greatest symphony. Reflecting his grief at the death of his mother a year earlier, the piece opens on a dark, brooding note, but this is soon offset by glimpses of Dvorak’s typically sunny disposition. Kuan and the orchestra brought driving urgency to these shifting moods in a sweeping “Allegro maestoso,” a radiant “Poco adagio,” a lilting Czech-infused “Scherzo: Vivace,” and a heroic “Finale: Allegro.” 

The HSO’s next program (November 10-12) will pair new-ish works by Huang Ruo and Michael Spivakovsky with familiar classics by Debussy and Ravel and will feature a rare (in classical music) harmonica soloist, Cy Leo.