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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...
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.