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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 ...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Alexander String Quartet

THE ALEXANDER SQ AT LAST PLAYS OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, May 13, 2010

For nearly 25 years the Alexander String Quartet has been the preeminent chamber music group in Northern California, but despite many invitations they have never appeared on the popular Oakmont Concert Series season. Schedule conflicts with the SRJC Chamber Series and the Quartet’s far-flung travel commitments were finally overcome May 13 when the esteemed foursome appeared on the Berger Auditorium stage before 225 chamber music aficionados.

In a concert dedicated to the memory of Lore Kahane, a beloved Oakmont resident who died May 11, the Alexander was joined by Marin pianist June Choi Oh in a program that was both novel and routine. Mozart’s early Quartet in F major, K. 168, began the festivities, a four-movement work the congenial Alexander can play in their sleep. The opening Allegro was a model of suave interplay, the bucolic themes deftly passing between instruments. In the following Andante the mood became somber, but never plodding, with Sandy Wilson’s cello lines highlighting a threnody during long stretches of pianissimo. A quick Viennese dance characterized the Menuetto with bursts of color from first violin Zakarias Grafilo, and a quick fugue, light in texture, finished the work. The unison strings were perfectly together, the sound not large but carrying well and dying out to a whisper.

Perhaps the most popular piano quintet, Schumann’s work in E-Flat Major, Op. 44, closed the first half in fine style. The big second theme of the opening Allegro Brillante came richly in a duet from violist Paul Yarbrough and Mr. Wilson, though in this Schumann work from 1843 the strings often double the piano part or fill in with isolated phrases. Ms. Oh is a fluent pianist without being a very demanding collaborator, and the many repeats of the theme become almost tiresome. But it is a heavenly theme, constantly embellished in the cello part. In the march-like second movement there was an elegant “question and answer” motif incorporating different rhythms that was effectively played, albeit with a raspy tone from Mr. Yarbrough. Often the pizzicato sections reflected music on “tiptoe” but with consummate delicacy. The Scherzo was played with controlled recklessness and drew some audience applause at the powerful ending, just one movement short of completion. That finale, Allegro man non troppo, found the viola sound back in the mix and just the proper amount of majesty in the country dance section leading to the coda. It was a high-level performance in every way but lacking for me the final bit of energy and abandon. A polished Schumann but slightly underplayed.

Elgar’s three-movement A Minor Quintet, Op. 84, closed the afternoon and proved to be a tough work to get one’s arms around. It’s richly inventive and develops mostly in an inexorable Brahmsian way, with orchestral power in the opening Moderato–Allegro. It’s a work that on the whole contains many segments, with some commonality in the serene sections of the Moderato and the fetching Adagio. The Alexander drove the long first movement urgently, at times covering the piano part and making the most of unison sections and at the end a drawn out and tranquil diminuendo.

Rich romanticism pervaded the second movement, which the Quintet seemed to perceive as an homage (to British WW I dead? to the demise of the Edwardian era?). Their playing over many convoluted but deceptive cadences was captivating, the final release a wistful cessation of sound. Violinist Frederick Lifsitz's subtle discovery of inner voices in the movement was telling. The finale began with what sounded like a quote from the Moderato and moved into nervous animation and prismatic modulations. Ms. Oh’s fast running right-hand figures and sweeping arpeggios added sonic sparkle and the choral-like section was played by the entire group with careful control of the complex rhythms.

On balance, the Elgar was for me the afternoon’s most effective work, but in an odd way, as few could leave the hall humming tunes as with the Schumann Quintet. I suspect the Alexander and Ms. Oh lavished rehearsal time on this lush but intricate work, to a felicitous end.