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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 ...
RECITAL REVIEW
Cinnabar Theater / Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Lara Downes, piano

Pianist Lara Downes

AMERICAN MUSIC FEATURED IN DOWNES' CINNABAR RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Pianist Lara Downes is a proselytizer, a woman on a mission to spread the gospel of American classical music of the early 20th century. Ms. Downes brought her musical discourse to Petaluma’s Historical Museum Sept. 8 in the penultimate concert of Cinnabar Theater’s Summer Music Festival.

Beginning with the popular Barber Excursions, Op. 20, from 1944, the pianist quickly fashioned was to come in the evening’s additional works – large-screen computer generated photos mixed with piano solos and deft introductory remarks. The Walker Evans-style photos didn’t always relate to the music at hand, and tended to be on the screen too long. The rhythmic drive of the opening un poco allegro had the alluring boogie woogie snap, as did the following syncopations of the slow blues. The fourth work, a square dance, was Coplandesque and the repeated right hand notes were well played. These are not subtle pieces with much tonal coloring, and needed the clangorous sound Ms. Downes provided.

Turning to Copland himself, the “Four Piano Blues” followed. This is sophisticated jazz, totally American, and the improvisatory first piece was freely poetic and featured telling pedal points. Less compelling pianistically was a languid and wandering reading of the second piece, but with lovely shimmering effects. Ms. Downes’ sensuous repeated arpeggios barely covered the inherent dissonances of the third, and the jazziest of the set (“With Bounce,” 1926) was a declamatory short dance, and riveting.

Florence Price’s music, with that of Margaret Bonds, is occasionally heard at festivals, and it was good to find Price’s “Fantasie Negre” on the program. A student of Chadwick, Converse and Sowerby, Price wrote the neo-romantic work (a revision from a concerted piece?) that had the long line, with a beguiling second section in a “question and answer” mode and a diffuse sound, often over pedaled by the pianist. But it’s that kind of work, far removed from the harmonies of the composer’s contemporaries. Ms. Downes reveled in the sweep of the Fantasie with the sound filling every corner of the wood-surfaced museum.

Two more works remained, the American Nocturne by the jazz and Broadway composer Dana Suesse (1909 – 1987), the Gershwin’s big “Rhapsody in Blue” in the solo piano version. The first is cocktail party music, but at a high level, and the second is a panoramic compilation of the American master’s richly-hued jazz themes. I do miss the clarinet’s trill/glissando in the original version but the energy Ms. Downes brought to the work finally won me over. Pianistically the scales passes were even but muddy and the lack of sections of real repose and ritards combined with full-throttle forte and rapid tempo playing became overly sonorous. The approach worked best at the beginning of the big modulatory sections where orchestral playing is needed.

The Gershwin is familiar territory and the vigor the pianist pursued brought loud cheers from the audience of 40. One encore was offered, a short Copland piece in a dreamy style, the cantabile captivating. It was the only work the artist played from score.