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Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Napa Valley Symphony / Sunday, January 31, 2010
Asher Raboy, conductor
Valentina Lisitsa, pianist

Napa Valley Symphony Conductor Asher Raboy

VIRTUOSIC EXCITEMENT AT NAPA VALLEY SYMPHONY CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Conductor Asher Raboy, in his final season with the Napa Valley Symphony, has established in a 20-year tenure a responsive orchestral sound and an interest in large and crowd-pleasing works. During a Jan. 31 concert in Yountville’s Lincoln Theater, Mr. Raboy had the opportunity to shine in two massive Russian pieces from two disparate composers.

Ukrainian-American pianist Valentina Lisitsa was the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s B-Flat Piano Concerto, Op. 23, and in the opening Allegro non troppo melded her artistry to a cordial accompaniment from Mr. Raboy and his players. The thunderous opening chords from the soloist were solid without banging, leading to an energetically-played first theme. But some problems popped up, not with wrong notes (though Ms. Lisitsa grabbed a few at the end of treble-register runs) but with balance and tempi. The instrument was initially too loud for the orchestra, and Ms. Lisitsa’s tempos tended to push ahead, clearly something different than Mr. Raboy had in mind. The cello and bass sound, perhaps due to the unorthodox seating the conductor preferred, seemed muted and the orchestra more muddy than distinct. The trumpets (Scott Macomber, Mark Nemoyten and Christy Dana) were excellent. The “question and answer” phrasing by Ms. Lisitsa in the cadenza was magical, holding the audience breathless.

Things jelled in the lovely Andante semplice, Diane Maltester’s clarinet solos sensitive and carrying to the back row of the 1,200-seat hall. Ms. Lisitsa’s trills were unvaryingly fast and even and her scales in the finale crystalline. The famous double octave passage in the concluding movement found the soloist plunging in with abandon, eschewing a slow beginning but achieving both speed and sonic clarity. The octaves had much of the Horowitz power and none of the Argerich confusion.

Not surprisingly the soloist had a tumultuous response from the audience of 850 with three curtain calls, and she responded with a wildly virtuosic Liszt Second Hungarian Rhapsody, the alternating tonic and dominant harmonies brought out with controlled flair. The right-hand skips were dead on, unfamiliar inner voices deftly displayed, and the last chord arpeggiated. It was a reading worthy of Gyorgi Cziffra, and praise can go no higher.

Following an extended intermission where Ms. Lisitsa met her adoring public in the lobby, the orchestra returned to the somber and thrilling Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich, Op. 47. Before the concert I overheard conversations questioning the ensembles’ ability to mount a cogent performance of the long and difficult work. But such fears were unwarranted, and Mr. Raboy led a performance long on architectural stability and pathos. As in the Tchaikovsky, he never seemed to be in any hurry, prefacing the performance with a pithy verbal description of the work’s origin in 1937. Presciently, he said to the audience that all the tragic political and social underpinnings of the Shostakovich Fifth were really just a footnote, and the real importance was the cosmos of human emotion inherent in the composition. Different than the neglected Fourth Symphony (Op. 36, 1934), the D Minor Fifth is a triumph over adversity. The unison strings set the tone in the first movement in what is essentially a grotesque march, similar to the often banal Shostakovich themes. But he is a great master, for me the finest 20th Century composer, and banal themes in his hands become evocative and potent. The oboe (Barbara Midney) and bassoon (David Granger) solos were exemplary and the fetching second theme in the violins was played serenely. The ending with celesta and unidentified harpist was soulful, no less so as the conductor took only the slightest ritard.

The Allegretto seemed untroubled and carefully paced, with fine violin playing by Concertmaster Yasushi Ogura and solo flutist Rebecca Pollock-Ayres. The highlight of the somber and spiritual Largo were the duets for harp and flute, with oboe and horn solos reminiscent of the Prelude to Act Three of Wagner’s “Tristan.” In this movement Shostakovich splits the cellos in different combinations with the bass, producing subtle counterpoint. The timpanist’s gong was overloud, covering the concluding tremolos in the strings. This slow movement was played with delicate beauty, Mr. Raboy wringing meaning from every note.

The concert concluded with the eruption of the final Allegro, encompassing much of the climax of the first movement in manner if not actual material. The shifts from D Minor to finally D Major were courageously and almost obsessively played, and the final fortissimo bass drum strokes from percussionist Susan Jette brought the audience to its feet, and a smile to Mr. Raboy. He clearly knew what his orchestra had brought to the hall, with nothing left on the table.

Contributing to this review was Daniel Greenhouse. The reviewer is producing a forthcoming concert for Ms. Lisitsa.