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Recital
HOME RECITAL BACH COMPLETES HOLIDAY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The just closing 2017 year was a calamity for many, but locally in music there were joys galore, and it was fitting Dec. 30 have the balm of two Bach’s violin sonatas in a private Guerneville home recital hosted by the eminent musician Sonia Tubridy. Violinist Richard Heinberg joined Ms. Tubridy in...
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 WITH 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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, February 12, 2011
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Christine Brandies, soprano

Soprano Christine Brandes

MOZART, MAHLER BURNING BRIGHT

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 12, 2011

How many performances of the Jupiter Symphony does it take to turn on a light bulb above the head of attentive listeners? In the case of the Santa Rosa Symphony, only one. Despite a few minor flaws, their rendition of this beloved classic on Feb. 12 was incandescent, glowing with the warm light that Mozart sheds over Earth and other planets.

With his precise style and brisk tempos, Bruno Ferrandis is a natural Mozart conductor. Glancing only occasionally at a diminutive pocket score, he flew right into the opening Allegro vivace, bidding the strings to dig in and articulate the notes with precision and rapidity. He loomed over the orchestra like a hawk, spreading his arms to ride the waves of sound and then diving forward suddenly to summon each new entry. The call-and-response orchestration was clearly audible, with each phrase matching its counterpart.

The tension of the first movement gave way to the singing Andante of the second. Ferrandis lowered his shoulders considerably, and the orchestra responded with a more relaxed and open sound, marred only by a lack of dynamic contrast. The third movement, a minuet, brought even more changes, with unexpected ritards in certain measures, followed by strong downbeats. The violins offered some particularly agile bowing, mixing fluid down bows with spiky upstrokes.

The fourth movement was both the most impressive and the most problematic. Ferrandis and the orchestra did a great job of bringing out all the many disparate parts, but some of the entries were ragged and uncertain. The woodwinds in particular seemed to have trouble following Ferrandis’s beat, occasionally entering late and rushing their notes. The overall effect, however, was wonderful.

Wonderful also was the concert-opening overture to the Marriage of Figaro, rendered at an equally brisk pace with good ensemble playing from the strings. Unlike many orchestra programs, the overture was followed by an aria from the actual opera: “Porgi, amor,” sung by soprano Christine Brandes. She wasted no time in displaying her full, rounded voice, crescendoing effortlessly into high notes with a carefully controlled vibrato. She has a gorgeous sound perfectly suited to the aria, which is sung by the unhappy Countess at the beginning of the second act.

Brandes returned after intermission to sing the Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg. While not as well known as his Altenberg Lieder, the songs do show his remarkable feeling for drama and soaring melody. Their scoring, however, is a bit murky, probably because they were originally conceived for voice and piano and orchestrated much later to capitalize on Berg’s operatic fame.

While Brandes sang well, she undercut her own stage presence by using a score. This was a little mystifying, given her many operatic roles, but perhaps she didn’t have time to memorize the music. In any case, her German articulation was not as precise as her Italian in the Mozart aria, and her lower notes were often swallowed by the orchestra. Balance was a problem in the outer movements, which call for larger orchestra, but she hit her stride in the less orchestrated middle movements, particularly in the third song, “The Nightingale,” where she displayed great strength in her upper register.

In contrast to the Mozart, the Berg songs were all slow-moving, rarely rising above a strolling Andante. The pace slowed even more for the final work on the program, the Adagio from Mahler’s incomplete 10th symphony. Here the soaring vocal lines of the Berg were replaced by long figures from the strings, most notably the violas. They begin the movement all by themselves, playing an ambient melody that floats around a tonal center without ever settling down. The performance here was exquisite, with cohesive ensemble and not a single note or bow out of place.

After the violas’ memorable entry, the rest of the orchestra took turns pouring out Mahler’s viscous score. The forces are immense, but the work often has a chamber feeling, with only one or two lines unfolding. Mahler moves from one idea to the next, never settling into any definite direction. The entire movement seems to be composed of dying cadences, each one projecting an aura of finality, only to be replaced by another cadence that seems even more final.

Toward the end, the orchestra settled briefly into a triumphant waltz, followed by a series of memorable duets. When the movement finally did end, the sound moved upward from the cellos and bassoons to a shrill (and slightly out of tune) utterance from the piccolo. While not a quite a bang, it was a fitting conclusion for Mahler’s otherwise dark and brooding masterpiece.

All in all, the concert offered quite a contrast, from the vivacity of Mozart to the tortured melancholy of Mahler and Berg. Nonetheless, the light bulb burned brightly throughout.

[Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.]