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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

The Stauffer Duo

STAUFFER DUO LAUNCHES SRJC SEASON WITH GENTLE CHARM

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Old friends returned Sept. 19 as the Stauffer Duo, long associated with the Santa Rosa Junior College Chamber Series, return for their 30th anniversary recital in Newman Auditorium. It was the first of the season’s six concerts, with a lively 177 in attendance and the anticipation of a challenging program including two modern works and some solo pianism from a mostly unknown composer.

Currently emeritus professors at San Diego State University, cellist Thomas Stauffer and pianist Cynthia Darby have strong ties to the North Bay, as Mr. Stauffer was for many years with the Santa Rosa Symphony and Ms. Darby was born in Ukiah, studying with local teachers prior to matriculating to Boston.

Mr. Stauffer’s cello playing is studied and professional but difficult for a listener to easily approach. This was initially evident in the opening work, Beethoven’s G Minor Sonata, Op. 5, No. 2. The performance was suave with fastidious attention to detail, the bowing often on open strings and understated in the long introductory section. The piano frequently covered the string line, making the cellist visible but not audible. But Beethoven wrote a virtuoso part for himself in the 1796 work, and more is frequently happening in the accompaniment than with the cello. The mixture of quick turns in the piano part in Rondo Allegro brought the composer’s humor to the forefront, the Duo’s attention to small effects telling.

Joan Tower’s slower than slow Tres Lent spotlighted Mr. Stauffer’s varied vibrato technique, and his ability to make the subtlety of pitch alteration grow and diminish. This is a work of lament, episodic for the cello with deft downward phrasing and small portimenti. I found it quite moving.

The first half ended with three rare solo piano works by Séverac, a composer that I don’t recall ever listed on a piano recital program. The inspiration was from the composer’s native Languedoc region of France, now known for its bourgeois wines but in the early 1900s a bucolic area of wild nature. Ms. Darby brought these outdoor sounds quickly to bear with elegant pianism. These pieces are not easily known, as each begins in a wandering way and following many lovely side ventures arrives at shimmering endings, soft arpeggios fading into treble-area iridescence. In their way and with Ms. Darby’s artistic fingers (and feet) they were captivating, but not altogether convincing.

The second part contained two works, a short Messiaen threnody for cello and piano and the big Brahms E Minor Sonata, Op. 38. Here the best and the least effective parts of Mr. Stauffer’s artistry were heard. The Messiaen is the fifth of the eight movement Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps, from 1941, titled “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus.” Here Mr. Stauffer was in his element, leaning into some notes, playing others without vibrato, juxtaposing some of the less-than-jarring dissonances in the piano and Ms. Darby’s exquisite control of diminuendo passages. The cello note at the end, over an ostinato passage in the piano, is a long fermata and worth every second of time. Long seconds indeed and wholly mesmerizing.

Brahms’ E Minor Sonata (Op. 38) concluded the printed program, a somber and mystical composition reflecting “homage to Bach” in three big movements, and finishing with a fugue and provocative modulation to G Major. Here I was expecting the piano to again cover the cello, but the balances were initially good and the noble opening theme sounded forth with fervent intensity. The warm second theme was underplayed by Mr. Stauffer, as throughout the recital he tended to need more sonic projection and instrumental passion. His style tends more towards a Fournier sound than one of DuPre, Rostropovich or the flamboyant Piatigorsky. It wasn’t a bass-heavy Brahms reading, the last Piu Presto coda of the Allegro finding the cello lost in the piano sound. Ms. Darby is an articulate pianist, clean and without score variance or inner voicing, but even her non-heroic Brahms sound easily veiled Mr. Stauffer’s elegant but small-scaled tones.

One encore was offered to a standing ovation, the long slow movement from Brahms’ F Major Sonata, Op. 99. Here again the performance of the Adagio Affettuoso was beguiling but not sonorous, the pizzicato exposition played with refinement and for once with heft.

Hosted by the Series Committee, a posh reception in the Bertolini Student Center followed the concert and honored retired SRJC faculty member Norma Brown.