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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...
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.