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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.