Review: HSO's 'Keys To Romance' An Inspired Evening Of Passion

Special to the Courant

There were many keys in “The Keys to Romance.”

This was the title used to advertise this weekend’s program given by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra as the ensemble continued its 2017-2018 Masterworks Series in the Belding Theater, at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

“The Keys to Romance” centered on love themes appropriate for the orchestra’s annual Valentine’s weekend concert. The keys to success were numerous as well, and each success made the sense of sonic romance appealing.

Music Director Carolyn Kuan conducted the first half of the program from memory. This allowed unbroken eye contact with the orchestra and the sound reflected this intensely personal approach.

Another key to success was that the orchestra was set up with violas to the right of the conductor and with the section celli facing the audience. This created a wonderful blend of sound that slightly favored the cello section. The location of the violas meant that their instruments faced away from the audience. But since the HSO viola section is strong and the hall is relatively small, the dark color produced remained clearly audible and attractive.

The program opened with the Intermezzo from “Cavalleria rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni. The orchestra created sweet sound and the lyrical unfolding of this masterful moment of contemplative passion was another key to the evening’s mood.

The first half of the program closed with the Symphony No. 104 by Franz Joseph Haydn. Haydn’s final numbered symphony is distinct from the others: it moves in waves of contrasted textures. This is a symphony of cycles: loud and quiet — joyous and mournful. Kuan amplified the humor and wit in the work, as when she slightly exaggerated pauses or extended them to intensify collisions of sound.

This second movement is the emotional centerpiece. It is often performed as a “slow movement,” but its marked andante tempo suggests a faster reading. Kuan took a fast-side tempo that allowed the music to reveal a dance sensibility. This performance was a delicacy.

After intermission Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe (better known as the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo) were featured in various ways throughout the second half of the concert. This event marked the Duo’s second appearance with the HSO. They performed Gershwin selections with the orchestra in May 2013.

We heard first movement of the Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor by Francis Poulenc. The HSO responded to the passionate intensity of the soloists with a marvelous freshness in colliding ideas. In spite of a few rough edges in coordination early on, the gamelan section at the end of the first movement was hypnotic, exotic, and most certainly Romantic.

Anderson’s “Fantasy on Themes from Carmen by Bizet,” in its original version for two pianos is already receiving performances from numerous other piano duos. We heard the world premiere of a new version of this “Fantasy” scored for 2-pianos and orchestra. The orchestration was effective, and the new format will surely become a welcome addition to the 2-piano orchestral repertory.

After the Fantasy the orchestra departed, and the duo performed an extended encore. They played the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 1 (Op. 5) called “La nuit... L'amour...” followed by an arrangement of four selections from West Side Story (Mambo, Tonight, Somewhere, and America). To close they played an arrangement of the “Libertango” by Piazzolla. The virtuosity and charisma of this Duo was inspiring.

Anderson & Roe were given wave after wave of enthusiastic applause, and the evening felt young and inspired. Apparently one key to feeling young is to attend.

The Masterworks Series: The Keys to Romance continues at the Belding Theater at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, Saturday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m.; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18. $38 and up. and 860-987-5900.

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