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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Napa Valley Symphony / Friday, May 29, 2009
Asher Raboy, conducting
Lynn Harrell, cello

Cellist Lynn Harrell Playing the Dvorak Concerto

MELODIOUS AND CONVINCING DVORAK BY HARRELL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, May 29, 2009

It’s not often that listeners have a chance to hear what arguably is the best work in a single classical genre, especially a concerto. On May 29, the Napa Valley Symphony offered just such an opportunity in Yountville’s Lincoln Theater when they performed the magnificent Dvorak Cello Concerto with veteran soloist Lynn Harrell.

Cello aficionados looking for a performance similar to Yo Yo Ma’s lyrical flights or Rostropovich’s magisterial intensity would have been disappointed, as Harrell provided an elegantly paced and ultimately low-key reading under the baton of Asher Raboy. Before a nearly full hall in the final concert of the Symphony’s 76th season, Harrell gave the luminous second theme of the opening Allegro movement rich color and nuance, never forcing the lush romanticism and always expanding on the phrases from the Orchestra. His duos with clarinetist Diane Maltester and the entire French horn section were captivating.

The poetic Adagio movement, both pastoral and troubled in character, found the soloist in a ruminating mood, never in a hurry to get anywhere. The three trills high up on the cello’s strings at the movement’s conclusion were played quietly and effortlessly, carrying to the back of the theater. The hall’s silence was palpable, though intruding applause broke the spell prior to the beginning of the final movement.

The Allegro moderato finale was full of restrained virtuosity, the opening march theme turning into a dance, the modulations frequent and telling. Concertmaster Yasushi Ogura traded graceful phrases with Harrell, their eyes seeming to reveal the joy of performing such opulent music, premiered in 1896 and a staple since for every concert cellist. The Orchestra responded to Raboy’s ebullient control, and joined in a rousing ovation for Harrell, along the mostly standing audience. In sum, Harrell offered a balanced, melodious and convincing performance of a passionate score.

The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream, the initial sound harmed by a loud Friday night audience and lack of volume from the violins. Here, and in the following Jeu de Cartes of Stravinsky, the powerful brass section tended to swamp the high strings.

Written in 1936 for a ballet, the Stravinsky score seems to have infinite sections, and for me works better when the original dancers portray the convoluted but brilliantly scored music, often polytonal and alternatively sardonic and whimsical. The horns, sure-footed everywhere else, bobbled some notes but in no way diminished the florid decoration of sound. Principal flutist Rebecca Pollock-Ayers had a fetching solo in the first movement’s dance variation, and the winds all around were exemplary.

The syncopated rhythms Stravinsky first developed in his pre-classical period ballets (Firebird, Petrushka, the Rite of Spring) were still in evidence, as in the pulsing repeated notes from Scott Stubbs’ tuba. No composer of that era was able to combine such rhythmic power with such taunting orchestral timbre as did Stravinsky. Maestro Raboy’s pithy introductory remarks about the music’s origins were matched by his attention to the tricky details of keeping everything in balance. A lot of balls were in the air, and in the cards, in this agitated 20-minute performance.

Though facing financial hurdles as with other community orchestras, the Napa Valley Symphony is performing on a high level, playing challenging music with élan and professional finish.