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Recital
PERLMAN TRIUMPHS IN LOW TEMPERATURE SOLD OUT WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Itzhak Perlman did a rare thing for a classical musician in his Sept. 15 recital – he sold out Weill Hall’s 1,400 seats, with 50 more on stage. Clearly the violinist has an adoring local audience that came to hear him perform with pianist Rohan De Silva in a concert of two substantial sonatas mixed...
Recital
TRANSCRIPTIONS ABOUND IN GALBRAITH'S GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Master guitarist Paul Galbraith’s artistry was much in evidence Sept. 14 in his Sebastopol Community Church recital. Attendees in the Redwood Arts Council events were initially bothered by the afternoon’s heat in the church, but it was of small importance when the Cambridge, England-based artist be...
Recital
ECLECTIC DRAMATIC PROGRAMING IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Marin-based pianist Laura Magnani combined piquant remarks to an audience of 100 Sept. 11 with dramatic music making in a recital at Spring Lake Village’s Montgomery Center. Ms. Magnani’s eclectic programming in past SLV recitals continued, beginning with three sonatas by her Italian compatriot Sca...
Chamber
PERFORMER AS PROMOTER: CLARA SCHUMANN AND MUSICAL SALONS CLOSE VOM FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 28, 2019
The July 28 closing performance of the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival could have been subtitled "Friends", as it was devoted to works by both Clara and Robert Schumann, and those of their friends and protégés Brahms and virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom Clara toured extensively...
Chamber
ROMANTIC CHAMBER WORKS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 27, 2019
Now in its 5th season the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented July 27 a concert titled “My Brilliant Sister,” featuring Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s compositions for combinations of voice, fortepiano and strings. Fanny and her brother Felix were close, and Felix occasionally published ...
Symphony
ROMANTIC DREAMS AT THE MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kayleen Asbo
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Romanticism, contrary to many popular perceptions, wasn’t simply about diving into the habitat of the heart. Romanticism began as a literary movement that elevated the power of nature as a transcendent force and sought with keen nostalgia to rediscover the wisdom of the past. The Romantics in both l...
Chamber
CHAUSSON CONCERTO SHINES IN A VISIONARY'S SALON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Ernest Chausson’s four-movement Concerto in D Major for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet (1891) is neither concerto nor sonata nor symphony, but it somehow manages to be all three, especially when played with fire and conviction by an accomplished soloist. Those incendiary and emotional elements w...
Chamber
EUROPEAN SALON MUSIC CAPTIVATES AT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Two stunning programs of 19th and 20th century chamber music were presented on July 21 and 28 as part of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival at the Hanna Center in Sonoma. Festival founders and directors pianist Eric Zivian and cellist Tanya Tompkins were both on hand to contribute brilliantly at ...
Chamber
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL COMBINATIONS IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 20, 2019
A Lovely summer afternoon in Sonoma Valley, an excellent small concert hall, enthusiastic audience, exciting musicians and creative programming with interesting story lines. All these were combined July 20 at a Valley of the Moon Festival concert titled “An Italian in Paris.” This is the fifth seaso...
Opera
'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019
In most of the Mendocino Music Festival’s 33 seasons a single evening is given over to a staged opera, with bare bones sets, lighting, costumes, minimal cast and short length. No Wagner or Verdi here, no multiple acts and complicated production demands. Light and frothy are the usual, and so it wa...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Vilnius String Quartet

THE LITHUANIANS HAVE LANDED

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 19, 2008

Between Beethoven and Brahms lurks--Onute Narbutaite. At least that's the version of music history proposed by the Vilnius String Quartet at their sold-out concert in the Occidental Community Church on Jan. 19. One hears Beethoven and Brahms all the time, but Narbutaite--a contemporary female Lithuanian composer--is a rarity in American concert halls. If the performance by her fellow Lithuanians is any indication, she deserves more frequent hearing.

Born in 1956, Narbutaite began composing as a teenager. She attended the Lithuanian State Conservatory and has made her living as a freelance composer in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, since 1982. "Open the Gates of Oblivion," performed to near-perfection by the Vilnius Quartet, comes from early in her career, when she was identified with a group of "neo-romantic" composers in Lithuania and elsewhere. Forsaking both serialism and minimalism, "Open the Gates of Oblivion" focuses on tone, atmosphere, and contemplation.

The one-movement, 15-minute work begins with a plucking cello, followed by high notes from the first violin, glissandos from the second, and a drone note from the viola. Having established distinct roles for each instrument, the work evolves slowly, driven by subtle changes in the viola drone. Each modulation reveals a new sonic figure, more like a painting or sculpture than a musical narrative. Within each figure, the music goes around and around, its motion primarily circular rather than linear.

And what music it was! The Vilnius played Narbutaite's score with passion, understanding, and finesse. From the cello's resonant opening notes, to the viola's steady beat, to the piercing tones and eerie slides from the violins, every aspect of the performance was well controlled and detailed. The only flaw was outside the musicians' control: one of the violist's strings broke during a particularly intense section near the end of the piece, and he had to rush from the stage in search of another. Upon his return, the quartet plunged right back in where they had left off, instantly regaining their musical intensity.

In a world of sound-alike quartets, it's a rare treat to hear contemporary works played by musicians who actually know the composer and can work with him or her to refine the performance. For the other two works on the program, however, the Vilnius reverted to the more typical mode of interpreting the composers of the past, none of whom can speak from the grave. They succeeded brilliantly with Beethoven, but their Brahms left something to be desired.

Beethoven's third quartet, which opened the evening, is an utter delight, and the Vilnius clearly enjoyed performing it. One imagines they have done so many times before. Founded in 1965, the quartet still retains its original first violinist, Audrone Vainiunaite, daughter of a Lithuanian composer. The other members, all men, are more recent arrivals, but they played as if they had all been together since Day One.

The opening movement of the Beethoven was luxuriant and unhurried, with rhythmic flexibility. Vainunaite's piercing tone was well suited to her virtuosic part, and the other instruments provided both solidity and depth. The inner voices were particularly distinctive in the lush second movement, which provides each instrument with a share of the limelight. The real fireworks, however, came in the last movement, with its strong accents and blistering pace. Despite a few intonation problems from Vainunaite, the effect was mesmerizing. There was real excitement in the dynamic contrasts, and the rollicking tempo made one want to dance. At the conclusion, several audience members stood to applaud, a custom usually reserved for the concluding work of the night.

After the Narbutaite and a lengthy intermission, the Vilnius returned to the stage to perform Brahms' second quartet, in A minor. For whatever reason, their previous intensity was lacking, and their performance was somewhat muddled. Unlike Beethoven, Brahms is not particularly well known for his string quartets, of which he published only three after destroying many failed efforts. One of the reasons for Brahms's own misgivings about his quartets may be related to his blending of the instruments, which is more orchestral than chamber. Unlike Beethoven, he fails to give each instrument a distinctive voice, and the textures tend to get murky.

The challenge in performing Brahms's string quartets is to pull the themes out of the dense thicket of sound. Although the Vilnius made a valiant effort, Vainunaite's tone and vibrato weren't quite up to the task. The notes were all there, but the certitude and clarity were lacking. Nonetheless, the audience responded with warm applause.

The concert concluded with a sparkling encore, a tarantella by the 20th-century Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff, whose music is finally coming into its own after years of obscurity. Leaving the gravitas of Brahms far behind, the Vilnius performed the tarantella, a swirling southern Italian dance, with vigor and grace. Their final standing ovation was well deserved.