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Symphony
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 dazzlin...
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 REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, November 07, 2009
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Guest soloist, Julie Albers, cello

Cellist Julie Albers

WHAT DVORAK KNEW

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, November 07, 2009

On reading the score of Antonín Dvořák’s magnificent Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, Dvořák's mentor Brahms is reputed to have said, “Why on earth didn’t I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known, I would have written one long ago!”

What Dvořák knew was that the cello could be a soaring solo instrument, on a par with the violin, if placed in the proper orchestral context. With its low register, a solo cello is often in danger of being drowned out by all those piercing fiddles; but if the orchestra is held at bay, the cello can truly shine.

This solution for cello concertos was on full display Saturday at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert, where soloist Julie Albers joined the symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis for a riveting performance of the Dvořák concerto. Despite the infamous acoustics of the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa, Albers managed to project her sound not only above the orchestra, but also to the farthest reaches of the balcony.

Ferrandis set the stage for Albers with a dainty yet sure-handed performance of the Prelude to Rusalka, the only Dvořák opera in the standard repertory. This late work, composed after the composer’s return to Bohemia from America, centers on water nymphs, and the music is accordingly gossamer-thin and delicate. Lightness was the order of the day, and Ferrandis spent most of his time with his fingers to his lips and his hands held up as if calming traffic. His efforts paid off, producing a shimmering though all too brief performance that made me want to hear the rest of the opera.

Instead of a water nymph, Julie Albers then strode on the stage, looking quite land-based in a strapless brown gown, with matching long brown hair. Her subdued ensemble set off her slender yet muscular arms and fingers to dramatic effect. And when she sat down, those arms and fingers soon became the center of attention, playing her chosen instrument with consummate artistry and skill.

Mastery is a given for world-class soloists, but it never ceases to amaze lesser mortals how someone can play an instrument to such perfection, with every note in time and in tune, every phrase fully articulated, every dynamic precisely controlled. If I’d known one could play a cello like Albers, I would have taken it up long ago.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Albers’ playing was her intonation and confidence in the cello’s upper register. With her left arm extended over her instrument, her digits positively danced at the end of the fingerboard, landing right in the center of each note. She had a fabulous glissando, impeccable double stops, and the trill of a hummingbird.

As Albers developed the majestic theme of the opening movement, Ferrandis kept the orchestra in check, repeatedly beseeching them to be quiet and let the cello radiate outward. This strategy continued in the quiet middle movement, where the balance is even trickier. Albers’ solo here was luminous and expressive, evoking a tranquil pastoral scene complete with chirping birds from the woodwinds.

Albers began the final movement with a strong statement of the theme, played with real rhythmic flourish. Her runs were dazzling, but she continued to shine above all in the quiet passages, which were positively serene. Ferrandis and the orchestra matched her note for note, making for a memorable performance of a true masterpiece.

The masterpieces continued in the second half, given over to Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” That world is usually identified as America, where the composer wrote both the symphony and the cello concerto, though the ambiguity of the title suggests many other possibilities. The only certain conclusion is that this particular symphony is forever new, as refreshing on the hundredth hearing as on the first.

Performing standard repertory is a challenge for conductors who want to leave their mark on the music. Some change the tempos, bring out certain voices, even fiddle with the score. Ferrandis, however, played it straight, deciding only to invest the work with as much energy and happiness as possible. His horses were already at full gallop when they left the barn in the first movement, and he spurred them onward by literally jumping up and down on the podium.

The famous English horn solo at the outset of the second movement, played here by Laura Reynolds, transformed velocity into sweetness, and the subsequent playing throughout the orchestra was suffused with melody and strong dynamic contrasts. The last two movements resumed the energy of the first, reaching a high point with a terrific brass entry at the beginning of the fourth.

The performance was both self-effacing and triumphant. Through his diligent efforts, Ferrandis made clear what a great piece of music the “New World” symphony is, and his talented musicians gave a performance to match his vision.

[Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice]