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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.