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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

College of Marin Orchestra Conductor Tara Flandreau

TWO HALVES WITH A FEW HOLES

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 22, 2009

After many decades of attending concerts, a listener (or reviewer) faces a tough decision after hearing a first half that in some way is not a complete artistic whole. Leave early or stay for the promising second part? In almost every case not hearing the music that follows intermission would be a mistake. It was thus at the College of Marin (COM) Symphony Orchestra’s concert Nov. 22 at Unity Church on the old Hamilton Air Force Base.

Just two works comprised the program, the first being the most popular of all piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s No. 1 in B Flat, Op. 23. COM faculty pianist Paul Smith made a heroic effort as the soloist to make the best of a less-than-ideal set of circumstances. The hall, packed with extra seats in the aisles, was overly bright with a long reverberation. The piano was not of professional caliber, and the orchestra, under the baton of Tara Flandreau, experienced pesky intonation problems and inconsistent brass playing. That said, the first movement unfolded with pliant string sounds, fluent but conventional phrasing from the conductor, and the wonderful clarinet playing of David Treganowen. Mr. Treganowen, along with flutist Bruce Salvisberg and bassoonist Karen Wright, played elegantly all afternoon. Mr. Smith’s cadenza, using a lot of pedal in an attempt to generate sound from the instrument, was in the grand manner if not in the middle of the Russian romantic tradition.

In the Adagio, the orchestra’s persistent covering of the soloist disappeared, and a more satisfying interplay of lines appeared. The long trills from the piano were evenly shaped, and the fetching themes were stated with dignity.

Tchaikovsky’s concluding movement has equitable balances between the piano and orchestra, and Ms. Flandreau was in no hurry to get anywhere. Right up to the famous ascending forte octave passage for piano, the orchestra played well. Mr. Smith made the most of these octaves, using half-pedal and getting as much sound as the instrument would give. He didn’t choose the left-hand octave tremolo at the final tutti. A standing ovation ensued.

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is a daunting prospect for a non-professional orchestra, the technical demands to the last desk heavy and nearly always exposed. But the 1937 work brought a sharply different orchestra than was heard in the Tchaikovsky, the attacks and releases more sure, the strings more resonant. There was more security of pitch for the brass section, and the addition of the accompanying piano and electronic celesta was welcome. In the opening Moderato, the big sound was clear, and the tempo was steady. Piccolo soloist Dawna Stebbins played with penetrating clarity. Virtuosic playing in the second movement came from Ms. Wright and from the pizzicato unisons in the strings.

The long Largo, a precursor to Hovhanness’ “Mysterious Mountain” Symphony, was taken at an overly relaxed tempo, but it also left plenty of time for the counterpoint from Messrs. Salvisberg and Treganowen and the beguiling harp playing of Michelyn French. A threnody, the sad march moved deliberately along, the harp and celesta parts in a duo which echoed much of the composer’s more dissonant and longer Fourth Symphony (1936).

Ms. Flandreau brought to the Allegro non troppo the requisite power, the return of the march theme again having the benefit of precision string playing and the reiteration of the “A” notes in the violins. The tympani solo (Robert Jakubs) was positively militaristic, a sober introduction to the carnage of the finale, where Ms. Flandreau carefully slowed the tempo to the last potent chords, holding the audience breathless.

Shostakovich’s mighty creation always generates a standing ovation, and it received one here.