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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
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
Recital
KENNER'S ALL POLISH RECITAL HAS PADEREWSKI RARITY
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Kevin Kenner’s April 8 recital at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall had been advertised as all-Chopin, but he added a detour into another seminal Polish composer-pianist, Paderewski. Several of Mr. Kenner’s teachers were Poles, he speaks Polish, and he navigated at the piano both composers’ deman...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Chamber
VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018
At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schro...
Choral and Vocal
GOOD FRIDAY REQUIEM FILLS INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 30, 2018
Maurice Duruflé’s short and intense Requiem has been heard in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation before, but the March 30 Good Friday performance was stripped down in the number of performers, combining Cantiamo Sonoma and the St. Cecilia Choir with musical underpinning from organist Robert Youn...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Recital
VIRTUOSIC VARIATIONS IN MORGAN'S SCHROEDER ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Organist Robert Huw Morgan’s artistry spun through the web of early variation form in a Mar. 18 recital on Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh organ. Mr. Morgan, Stanford University’s resident organist, performs a wide range of repertoire, but as he said in comments to the audience, he loves when h...
Symphony
ORFF AND HINDEMITH SONIC SPLENDOR AT FINAL SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts are continually artistically successful but on the Santa Rosa High School’s stage the orchestra rarely numbers above 40, and in the 900-seat hall audiences can be scant. Violinists can be in short supply. An opposite scene occurred at the March 17/18 concert set...
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.