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Choral and Vocal
SOMBER GERMAN POETRY IN SONG AT ROSCHMANN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Two weeks does make a hefty difference. Feb. 3 saw the diva Renée Fleming beguile a full Weill Hall house in a mix of Brahms, Broadway show songs and Dvorak chestnuts. It was a gala event with couture gowns and colorful extra-musical communication between singer and her rapt audience. Dorothea Rösc...
Chamber
NOVEL AND FAMILIAR WORKS FROM THE TILDEN TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 11, 2018
North Coast chamber music fans have the luxury of two fine resident piano trios, with the frequently performing Trio Navarro at Sonoma State, and the Tilden Trio at San Rafael’s Dominican University. The Tilden plays less often, but their Feb. 11 performance brought several hundred to Angelico Hall ...
Symphony
A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for t...
Recital
HAUNTING RACHMANINOFF WORKS IN HU'S MAO RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 08, 2018
Ching-Yun Hu made a return Music at Oakmont appearance Feb. 8 in Berger Auditorium, reprising a recital she made in the same hall four years ago. Many of the recital’s trappings were the same, but the music Ms. Hu chose to play was decidedly different. All afternoon the pianist was in an aggressiv...
Chamber
A COMPLETE ARTISTIC PACKAGE IN FLEMING'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Vaida Falconbridge and Mary Beard
Saturday, February 03, 2018
The diva Renée Fleming strode on the Weill Hall stage Feb. 2 in her first couture gown of the evening, a gray and swirling cream strapless sheath with flamboyant coordinating stole. For this concert, Ms. Fleming stayed to somewhat lighter fare, foregoing heavier dramatic and coloratura arias for a v...
Recital
ZNAIDER-KULEK DUO CHARMS AND CHALLANGES WEILL AUDIENCE FEB. 2
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 02, 2018
Weill hall has mounted several exceptional piano recitals, with Garrick Ohlsson’s titanic Liszt concert, and of course Lang Lang’s two insouciant but also compelling performances topping the list since 2013. But arguably the virtuoso violinists have on balance been more impressive, and thoughts g...
Chamber
VIVID GERMAN ROMANTICISM IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Though not new to Sonoma County, the Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) concerts are relatively recent in the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall. So the first of three spring concerts Jan. 27 provided a picture of what’s in the repertoire leading up to their Festival this summer at Sonoma’s Ha...
Symphony
MONUMENTAL NIELSEN SYMPHONY CAPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT AT SR HS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Turning again away from conventional repertoire, the Sonoma County Philharmonic programmed Jan. 27 three works in what were local debut performances in Santa Rosa High School’s Performing Arts Center. Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, Op. 29, called “Inextinguishable,” closed the program with an extravaga...
Chamber
ECLECTIC ANDERSON & ROE TRANSCRIPTIONS CAPTIVATE WEILL HALL AUDIENCE
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, January 21, 2018
From the first moment when Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe walked Jan. 21 on the Weill Hall stage and spoke to the audience about their two-piano program, it was clear that an afternoon of drama, humor, virtuosity, warmth, transcendence and excitement was in store. This dynamic and mesmerizing ...
Chamber
BALCOM TRIO HIGHLIGHTS DELPHI'S RAC CONCERT IN OCCIDENTAL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, January 20, 2018
The Redwood Arts Council audience first met the Delphi Trio (Jeffrey LaDeur, (piano), Liana Berube (violin), and cellist Michelle Kwon) in 2013, and subsequent concerts in the same Occidental hall have become crowd favorites. The January 20th program before a capacity audience seemed to have enthus...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Saturday, October 23, 2010
Škampa String Quartet

Škampa String Quartet

ANGUISHED AUTOBIOGRAPHY

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chamber music ensembles come and go, sometimes in their entirety, sometimes player by player. When a first violinist leaves a string quartet, for example, the group either dissolves or scrambles to find a replacement. Rarely, however, do two players leave at once, but such is the case with the Czech Republic’s two-decade-old Skampa String Quartet, which appeared for its concert in Occidental on Oct. 23 boasting not one but two new violinists since its last appearance in Sonoma County two years ago.

At the 2008 concert, held at Santa Rosa Junior College, the Skampa players stood (excepting the cello) and delivered a memorable rendition of Smetana’s first string quartet, “From My Life.” This year the quartet sat and delivered an equally memorable rendition of an equally autobiographical quartet, the Shostakovich No. 8.

Getting to the “memorable” category wasn’t easy. The two new violinists, Helena Jiríkovská (first) and Daniela Soucková (second), had big shoes to fill, a task made harder by their diminutive frames and less than compelling stage presences. Jiríkovská in particular was rigidly focused on her score, in stark contrast to the emotive cellist Lukás Polák and the founding violist Radim Sedmidubsky, who played many passages from memory.

The Skampa began their concert in the new Occidental Center for the Arts with the two extant middle movements from Haydn’s last quartet fragment, Op. 103. As Sedmidubsky said, the fragment is a good concert opener, and it showed off the clean acoustics of the new Center, a converted elementary school gymnasium. As befitting its former small inhabitants, the gym is on a petite scale, seating about 100, with a three-foot-high stage at the south end. Dominating the stage is a set of sound reflectors (they looked like birch plywood), with matching reflective “clouds” hanging from the ceiling.

The audience sits on cloth-covered stacking chairs, either on the central floor or on raised platforms in the back. Sight lines are excellent, and the stage lighting is subdued. Adding to the pleasant mix is an open kitchen on the west wall from which refreshments are served at intermission. For this performance, almost every chair was filled, despite the torrential rain outside.

Compared to the Center’s former cramped quarters at the Occidental Community Church, the acoustics have somewhat less presence, perhaps because of the sound-absorbing tiles on the gym’s ceiling. One hopes that the new Center is a work in progress, however, so further adjustments can be made.

Back to the Skampa, which dispatched the Haydn with precision and clarity but not much in the way of feeling. That latter quality began to show through in the next work, the last quartet (Op. 106) of their countryman Antonin Dvorak. This infrequently performed work makes considerable technical demands on all the players and features a dizzying succession of melodic ideas. Just when Dvorak seems to have settled into a theme, he leapfrogs into another musical universe.

The Skampa approached Dvorak’s quartet with considerable energy, but they often seemed in too much of a hurry to let the piece sing. Despite his extroverted playing, the cellist emitted a thin tone, and the first violinist was frequently detached from the rest of the group. The second violinist had a better sound and seemed more engaged; her solo at the beginning of the second movement was particularly impressive. Holding everything together was the veteran violist Sedmidubsky, who leaned out from his chair at the left end of the quartet to play his occasional solos to the audience.

All the notes and dynamics were there, but the performance never caught fire. Thankfully, the conflagration did arrive after a lengthy intermission. Following a helpful introduction by Sedmidubsky, the Skampa eased into the Shostakovich with a sustained pianissimo, setting the stage for the sudden fortissimo of the work’s rollicking second theme. They played with conviction and certainty, blending their instruments beautifully and creating a striking unanimity of sound.

The rest of this memorable quartet, which many consider to be Shostakovich’s finest, was equally well played. Most important, the Skampa invested real meaning into the work, making Shostakovich’s anguished musical autobiography come alive. After the quiescent and somber ending, the audience sat for a moment in complete silence, holding their tumultuous applause until the musicians stood up. The standing ovation was well deserved.