Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 11, 2024

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "The Planets"

The Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT
June 7-9, 2024
by Michael J. Moran

Melissa White
Their ninth “Masterworks” program ended HSO’s 80th anniversary season on a festive note,
featuring an HSO premiere, the return of HSO 2023-2024 Joyce C. Willis Artist in Residence, violinist Melissa White, and a beloved sonic spectacular.

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan opened the concert with an exuberant account of rising composer-educator Carlos Simon’s 2019 “Amen!,” a 14-minute tribute in three continuous parts to the music of his family’s African-American Pentecostal Church. Kuan and the orchestra captured the jazzy flow of the opening call and response, the soulful blues of the mid-section, which quotes the gospel song “I’ll Take Jesus for Mine,” and the exultant “Amen” spirit of the closing hymn.  

After her stunning HSO debut last October in Florence Price’s unfamiliar first violin concerto, White next soloed in a cornerstone of the standard repertoire, Max Bruch’s enduringly popular 1866 first violin concerto. With stellar support from Kuan and the ensemble, White skillfully shaded her tone from lean and silken for the haunting first chords, nimble and virtuosic for the following “Allegro moderato,” rich and full-bodied for the ravishing “Adagio,” to earthy and bubbly for the jubilant “Allegro energico” finale. 

Price's contrasting encore was a poised and graceful reading of the lively “Gigue” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s third partita for solo violin.  

The program closed with an electrifying performance of Gustav Holst’s 1917 suite for large orchestra, “The Planets.” The musicians leaned into the astrological significance of Holst’s descriptive subtitles for the seven movements, yielding: a shattering “Mars, the Bringer of War;” a magical “Venus, the Bringer of Peace;” a frisky “Mercury, the Winged Messenger;” a noble “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity;” a brooding “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age;” a mischievous “Uranus, the Magician;” and an eerie “Neptune, the Mystic,” whose wordless offstage chorus was evocatively voiced by seven distinctive locally-based singers: five sopranos and two altos.      
One measure of the capacity audience’s full immersion in the program was spontaneous applause and a loud “Woohoo” after “Jupiter,” to which Kuan turned and gamely replied “I agree,” with the crowd’s approval.

Next up for the HSO is a free “Symphony in the Park” concert on June 15 at 2pm in the Bushnell Park Pavilion.