Review: Hartford Symphony

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HSO 'Symphonic Love Potions' Concert Unfolds As Dream-like Music

Live classical music sounds sweeter the day after a significant snow storm. It took extra effort from the orchestra and audience alike to make it all happen, but music that is shared warms everyone.

On Friday evening the Hartford Symphony Orchestra continued its 2016-2017 Masterworks Series in the Belding Theater at The Bushnell with a program called "Symphonic Love Potions." During the first of the weekend's three scheduled concerts, Carolyn Kuan conducted. She chose music effectively, with splashy entertainment that also provided opportunities for virtuoso playing and thoughtful music-making in a variety of styles.

The program opened with "Don Juan" by Richard Strauss. It was energetic and had memorable moments — in particular an eloquent oboe solo and fabulous sectional horn playing. The section violin playing sometimes lacked the razor precision to which we are accustomed, but overall the performance had sparkle and the lyrical passages felt like homecomings.

The first half of the program closed with a work written by Avner Dorman called "Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!" Dorman was born in Israel and studied with John Corigliano at Juilliard. Written in 2006, the work is a concerto for percussion duo and orchestra, and it featured percussionists Svet Stoyanov and Dmitrii Nilov.

Stoyanov and Nilov gave an entertaining and informative introduction to the massive array of instruments and mallets required by this score during the pre-concert talk.

The Dorman concerto is vibrant and energized. It blended styles from different cultures as well as different time periods. The styles mixed and existed together, and Dorman made their combination seem inevitable. The music was well-crafted and the orchestra and soloists found the deeper elements of its design. But Stoyanov and Nilov blew us away. They varied textural colors and weights in each sound and played with passion and intensity.

After intermission we still needed time to catch our breath, and we heard three arrangements for jazz combo and orchestra created by pianist Walter Gwardyak. Javon Jackson joined the orchestra as tenor saxophone soloist for this lovely jazz set.

The concert closed with the "Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy" by Tchaikovsky. The performance had edge and Kuan shaped balances that revealed a richness that can be lost in the grand gestures of this piece. After an explosive passage there was complete silence — then a pulsing b-minor. Though it was in a different key it brought to mind the strange passage that closed "Don Juan" early in the program. Unlike that earlier ending this one was colored by the harp as if by angels.

These "Symphonic Love Potions" worked on us. We are in no hurry for antidotes.


Chris Williams