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 Recent Reviews
RECITAL
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
CHAMBER
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
CHORAL AND VOCAL
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
OPERA
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
SYMPHONY
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
SYMPHONY
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
RECITAL
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
RECITAL
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
CHAMBER
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY
PEACE AND LOVE FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 04, 2018
Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 4 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” Symphony CEO Alan Silow took a moment to acknowledge the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and to observe that music offers a more peaceful and loving view of the world. Mr. ...
Local Concerts  
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, January 13, 2019
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor. Marie Plette, soprano

Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chonge

A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019

Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzling couple.

As if to herald these two masterworks, Lecce-Chong opened the program with two antiphonal brass fanfares by Toru Takemitsu: “Signals from Heaven 1 (day)” and “Signals from Heaven 2 (night).” For the daytime Signal, six brass players occupied stage right, while another half dozen defended stage left, with Lecce-Chong conducting in the middle and nobody else on stage. In the fashion of Gabrielli, the antiphon was slow-moving and filled with echo effects, building steadily to a triumphant chord. For the nighttime Signal, the players rearranged themselves and intoned a leisurely series of descending figures underneath a trumpet solo, again building to a sustained chord. The playing was excellent throughout.

As the rest of the orchestra filed in for the Mozart, the stage manager removed Lecce-Chong’s music stand. Lecce-Chong conducted the remainder of the concert from memory and, for the Mozart, without a baton.

The lack of a score or a baton allowed Lecce-Chong to engage closely with the orchestra, which responded in kind. They started the Allegro molto first movement at a brisk pace, with solid unisons from the various string sections. Their bows moved as one, and their intonation was superb. Lecce-Chong was a model of restraint, conducting with his head as much as his hands.

The second movement is marked Andante, but Lecce-Chong’s tempo was more like Allegretto, with sharply etched articulations and a playful spirit. Freed of the baton, Lecce-Chong used both arms almost equally, indicating long phrases rather than simply beating time. The Minuet third movement was likewise brisk, with an almost militaristic drive. The Trio section offered a brief respite, but the Minuet returned even more fierce and determined, with the players digging deeply into their strings.

The Allegro finale was a sprint to the finish, with more great unisons from the strings, even on the trickiest passages. Lecce-Chong propelled the orchestra forward with ever more dramatic movements, be it spreading his arms wide or punching the air in front of him like a boxer. For all that, the high points were the sudden rests, where the entire orchestra paused before launching back into the fray. The ending was electric.

Lecce-Chong took advantage of the interlude between the Takemitsu and the Mozart to explain the background for Mahler’s Fourth, which he described as “a child’s view of heaven.” The child in this case has passed away, so he or she is staring at the abundance of heaven, which is mostly blue sky with an occasional storm cloud.

Lecce-Chong’s remarks proved quite helpful for approaching the symphony, which offers a dizzying array of themes interspersed with bits of song and sharp-edged solos. Armed with a baton but still scoreless, Lecce-Chong used a light touch to smooth the many transitions in the opening movement. The relationships between the orchestral sections were so complex that the piece sounded like chamber music for, say, 18 voices: an octadecatet. Despite the complexity, each voice was distinctive, nowhere more so than in the wonderful French horn solo at the end, played beautifully by principal horn Meredith Brown.

Much of the focus in the Scherzo second movement was on concertmaster Joe Edelberg, who alternated his regular violin with another tuned a full step higher. He used the latter to lead a ghostly dance of death, in stark contrast to the otherwise sunny orchestration. His recurring pizzicatos were particularly chilling.

Lecce-Chong waited for full silence before unveiling the transcendent third movement, a quiescent Adagio that begins in the cellos and basses and gradually spreads upward through the orchestra. Despite the slow speed, the forward motion was ineluctable, bringing a hushed expectancy to the audience, which seemed to be hanging onto every note. Lecce-Chong never lost the thread as the theme and variations increased in urgency and emotion, ultimately exploding into triple-forte and then diminishing back to the opening dynamic. The impression was of floating in interstellar space.

As the Adagio faded out, the soprano Maria Plette entered from stage right to sing the Mahler song that inspired the entire symphony: “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life). Unfortunately, the text of the song wasn’t printed in the program, nor was it projected on a screen, so the audience was left to its own devices to figure out what Plette was singing. I was able to track down the text later, but I regret not having it at the time because it adds significantly to the experience of the symphony. The key line is, “There is just no music on earth that can compare to ours.”

Setting the text problems aside, Plette sang adequately but not brilliantly. Her diction was good, and she projected well, but her vibrato was often too wide, and her voice could be sharp-edged. She did improve as she went along, however, and the orchestra continued to play brilliantly, making the final lines ring true: “The angelic voices gladden our senses, so that all awaken for joy.”

Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice

Events Calendar

SYMPHONY
Marin Symphony
Saturday, January 26, 2019
8:00 PM - San Rafael
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Orion Weiss, piano.
Adams: The Chairman Dances; Sibelius: Symphony No. 7, Op. 105; Brahms: Concert in B Flat Major, Op. 83...
Details

SYMPHONY
Sonoma County Philharmonic
Saturday, January 26, 2019
7:30 PM - Santa Rosa
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Tom Hyde, trumpet; Anthony Perry, English horn; Lin He, violin
Copland: Quiet City; Elgar: Enigma Variations; Bruch: Scottish Fantasy Adults: $15; students and under 18 - free...
Details

SYMPHONY
Ukiah Symphony
Saturday, January 26, 2019
8:00 PM - Ukiah
Les Pfützenreuter, conductor. Elena Casanova, Elizabeth MacDougall and Carolyn Steinbuck, piano.
Mozart: Concert of Three Pianos in F Major K. 242; Bach: Concerto for Three Pianos in D Minor, BWV 1063; Grieg: Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34; Tchaikovsky: Serenade For Strings in C Major, Op. 48...
Details

SYMPHONY
Marin Symphony
Sunday, January 27, 2019
3:00 PM - San Rafael
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Orion Weiss, piano
Adams: The Chairman Dances; Sibelius: Symphony No. 7, Op. 105; Brahms: Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83...
Details

SYMPHONY
Sonoma County Philharmonic
Sunday, January 27, 2019
2:00 PM - Santa Rosa
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Lin He, violin; Tom Hyde, trumpet; Anthony Perry, English horn
Elgar: Enigma Variations: Copland: Quiet City; Bruch Scottish Fantasy Adults: $15; students under 18 - free...
Details

SYMPHONY
Ukiah Symphony
Sunday, January 27, 2019
2:00 PM - Ukiah
Les Pfützenreuter, conductor. Carolyn Steinbuck, Elena Casanova and Elizabeth MacDougall, piano
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48; Grieg: 2 Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34; Bach: Concerto in D For Three Pianos, BWV 1063; Mozart: Concerto for Three Pianos in F Major, K. 242...
Details

CHAMBER
Mythica Foundation for the Arts
Sunday, January 27, 2019
3:00 PM - Petaluma
Kayleen Asbo, story and piano; Dianna Morgan, soprano; Grace Yarrow, violin; Davon Bolt, flute
Mozart's Birthday Party. Mozart: Fantasy in d Minor; Adagio in F Minor; Sonata in D Major, K. 311; selected arias from the Operas "Don Giovanni", "Idomeneo," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic ...
Details

CHAMBER
Music at Oakmont
Thursday, January 31, 2019
8:00 PM - Santa Rosa
Calidore String Quartet. Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi,
Beethoven: Quartets: Ops. 18, No. 4; 74 ("Harp"); 131 Music at Oakmont concerts are open to Oakmont residents and their guests...
Details

SYMPHONY
Symphony of the Redwoods
Saturday, February 02, 2019
7:30 PM - Fort Bragg
Allan Pollack, conductor. Yevgeny Kutik, violin
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1, Op. 10, in F Major: Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61...
Details

SYMPHONY
Symphony of the Redwoods
Sunday, February 03, 2019
8:00 PM - Fort Bragg
Allan Pollack, conductor. Yevgeny Kutik, violin
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1 in F Major, Op. 10; Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61...
Details