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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, December 04, 2010
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir
Cyndia Sieden, soprano
Marcus DeLoach, baritone

Soprano Cyndia Siedan

HOLIDAY MUSIC WITH A TWIST

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, December 04, 2010

Playing a requiem is a strange way to celebrate the holidays. At a time when people are looking for a bit of cheer, the Santa Rosa Symphony took the opposite approach for its Dec. 4 concert, offering not only the Fauré Requiem, but also the world premiere of Aubert Lemeland’s “Battle Pieces,” inspired by soldiers’ poems about death. Sandwiched between these two was the somewhat more festive Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

Regardless of the season, the Fauré Requiem was the highlight of the show. Using the full force of the Symphony’s 140-voice Honor Choir to telling effect, Music Director Bruno Ferrandis delivered a memorable performance. He achieved particularly good balance between the singers and the orchestra, and he was in full command of dynamics. The pianissimo passages were really, really quiet, and the fortissimos were correspondingly loud.

Mr. Ferrandis dedicated the performance of the Requiem to the composer Lemeland, who died just a few weeks ago. Perhaps that connection sparked the performance, which began with a dark and brooding entry from the choir. Mr. Ferrandis mouthed the words as they sang “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord). He continued in this fashion throughout the piece, which he has carefully memorized and certainly mastered. The score calls for a solo soprano and baritone, along with an organ. Lacking a real pipe organ, Mr. Ferrandis made do with an electronic one, its speakers stacked incongruously behind the violins. The sound was a bit plinky on the high notes, but it was mostly adequate.

The soloists were adequate as well. Soprano Cyndia Sieden sang a beautiful “Pie Jesu,” but her voice was a bit angular and could have used some smoothing around the edges. Last-minute baritone substitute Hugh Davies had a more rounded tone and was effective in the lower part of his range. The upper part, however, was somewhat nasal and congested. The scheduled soloist, Marcus DeLoach, was sick and couldn’t perform.

Technical problems aside, the Faure solos were well sung and delicately balanced with the orchestra. The real vocal star, however, was the chorus. From their hushed entry in the “Introitus” to their angelic departure in the “In Paradisum,” they captured the spirit of the Requiem, one of the loveliest pieces in the repertoire.

In contrast, the Lemeland “Battle Pieces” that opened the show will probably never ascend into the repertoire. Lemeland was a prolific French composer, but he is hardly known in the United States, despite his obvious interest in America. “Battle Pieces” is based on five poems written by American soldiers during World War Two. Instead of being set to music, the poems are read one by one, each reading followed by a musical interpretation.

Compositions that use spoken rather than sung texts form a small subgenre in music, including such famous examples as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Stravinsky’s “l’Histoire du Soldat.” The inherent danger is that the text will overwhelm the music, or vice versa. In this case, the text won by a landslide. The poems, read with conviction by former airman and actor Bernard Sugarman, were uniformly excellent, each one expressing the anguish and chagrin of soldiers headed into battle. The music, however, was undistinguished.

Lemeland scored the music for string orchestra and piano, with much emphasis on the cellos. Their lower reaches are often equated with grief, and Lemeland uses that trope repeatedly. Another standard device Lemeland employs is the quoting of hymns and folk tunes, in this case “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which makes an appearance in the opening section. The problem is that the music never rises above these devices. We already know from the poems that the music is supposed to be sad. It just never becomes anything else.

For some reason, several wind players were seated on stage during the “Battle Pieces,” even though they never played a note. They finally got their chance in the Poulenc Gloria, which features the composer’s usual sprightly writing for winds. The performance was a blessed relief from the dirge-like “Battle Pieces.” Once again, the choir shone, particularly in the “Laudamus Te” section and their a cappella entrance to “Qui Sedes.”

The Gloria is filled with unusual interpretations of a benumbingly standard text. Where legions of composers go one way in interpreting the words, Poulenc goes the other. The results are often memorable, nowhere more so than in the “Qui Sedes,” where the lush and exotic scoring gives the impression that the composer has found God while living it up on a tropical island.

If the performance of the Poulenc had a fault, it was with the lack of coherence. Poulenc introduces many musical ideas, and Mr. Ferrandis and company sometimes had trouble tying them all together. That particular ribbon and bow didn’t arrive until the Fauré.

In sum, the concert may not have been the most festive occasion, but it was mostly worth celebrating.