Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 17, 2024

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Vivaldi’s Gloria"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
April 12-14, 2024
by Michael J. Moran

At first glance, the seventh “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 80th anniversary season looked like a hodgepodge of disparate, unrelated works. But guest conductor Jacomo Bairos, quoting Hartford Chorale Music Director Jack Anthony Pott, called it a “garden” displaying the “wonderful variety” of classical music.  

The evening's concert opened with several selections from “Spirituals: A Medley,” 1920's arrangements by William Grant Still, the “dean of African-American composers,” of traditional Black spirituals. The ensemble was joined in all but one number by eloquent soprano Schauntice Shepard, who brought aching poignancy to “Were You There?” and fervent hope to “Deep River.”

Jacomo Bairos
HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal was next featured in Edouard Lalo’s 1873 “Symphonie Espagnole,” a concerto for violin and orchestra in all but name. A Frenchman’s homage to Spanish musical traditions, its five movements included offbeat and imaginative rhythms and require a virtuosic soloist. Sigal’s secure technique and silken tone, which he shaded at times to achieve a husky, almost gypsy-like sound, met or exceeded the piece’s every demand. Bairos and the HSO matched their soloist in sensitivity and flair.

The other major work on the program was Antonio Vivaldi’s 1720 “Gloria,” which has become the best known of the Italian master’s many sacred compositions. The text of the half-hour work, sung in Latin by mixed chorus and soloists, is derived from the Catholic Mass. Its 12 short movements featured wide contrasts in tempo and dynamics, including several intimate passages for soloists and one or two instruments. Bairos led a thrilling performance, with robust, flexible, and lucid singing by the men and women of the Hartford Chorale, soprano Suzanne Lis, mezzo-soprano Hannah Shea, and notable contributions from all sections of the orchestra.

The program closed with a sumptuous reading of “Make Your Garden Grow,” the stirring finale of Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 Broadway musical “Candide,” based on Voltaire’s 1759 satire, with lyrics by poet Richard Wilbur. Tenor Dominick Chenes was a plangent title character, and Lis, a radiant Cunegonde, his loving bride. The Hartford Chorale, HSO, and Bairos offered vibrant support.

The Portuguese-American Bairos, currently based in Miami Beach, Florida and Lisbon, Portugal, has a charismatic, Bernstein-esque stage presence, and his strong rapport with HSO and its audience would make him a welcome return visitor to Hartford.

The HSO’s next Masterworks program (May 10-12) will feature music of Mozart and Prokofiev.