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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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.