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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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.