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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

Cellist Zuill Bailey and Pianist Awadagin Pratt March 29 in Napa's Jarvis Conservatory

GRANITIC SONATAS AND RARE SONG TRANSCRIPTIONS IN ALL BRAHMS NAPA VALLEY SYMPHONY BENEFIT RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Concerts devoted solely to the music of Brahms are not that rare, and Sonoma County had one several years ago in the glorious “Norma Brown and Friends” event at SRJC. But an all-Brahms concert featuring just his cello music is novel, and a splendid example occurred March 29 in Napa’s Jarvis Conservatory.

In a fund raiser benefiting the Napa Valley Symphony, cellist Zuill Bailey joined colleague Awadagin Pratt in the two big Sonatas and several of the Hamburg master’s songs in cello transcriptions. And audience of 80 heard exceptional artistry accompanied by Mr. Bailey’s witty and cogent descriptions of Brahms’ complex life and prickly personality. There was no printed program and the cellist played from score all evening, seldom referring to the music and instead looking at his instrument or playing long stretches with closed eyes.

The lovely song Sommerfäden, Op. 72, No. 2, began the concert and immediately established that the instrumental balances were exemplary and the cello sound rich. The hall’s piano was less than professional, the lower tenor and bass registers indistinct and wooden and the treble lacked color. Mr. Pratt pushed the instrument hard all evening, particularly so in the first Brahms Sonata in E Minor, Op. 38. Written with thicker textures than the two Mendelssohn cello Sonatas, and far outstripping the contemporary Rubinstein and Servais works, the E Minor benefited by Mr. Bailey’s sonorous tone and deft decrescendos into the lower registers. In the nostalgic Menuetto Mr. Pratt played the opening four notes and had a beguiling touch in the soft passages, mirroring the cellist’s bow which occasionally would linger longingly at the end of a phrase.

The fugal Allegro was played powerfully, Mr. Pratt driving the tempo and providing sharp accents, easily heard with the hall’s limited reverberation and Mr. Bailey's musical line in a low range. The coda was played very fast and was emphatically exciting.

Prior to the famous F Major Sonata the duo played another transcription from a Brahms song, with no title stated but perfectly in the style of a Mendelssohn Song Without Words, such as the fetching D Major, Op.109. It was a captivating reading. The monumental Sonata that followed was packed with bravura playing. Just after the opening of the Allegro Vivace Mr. Pratt’s figurations at the piano enhanced some inner voices and Mr. Bailey’s vibrato became wider, and the tone had a nasal character that was clearly desired by the cellist and not at all unpleasant. The runs in both instruments were clear and the piano’s damper pedal captured the last word. The great Adagio was played with elegant sentiment but without a note of sentimentality. The descending-ascending pizzicatos in the cello were adroit and the movement’s tender ending chastely played.

The final two movements had the stamp of Mr. Pratt’s insistent rhythms and again perfect balances, even in the frequent key modulations of the Allegro molto. Intonation was never a problem for Mr. Bailey and the majesty of the duo’s conception and virtuosic performance generated a standing ovation.

The encores, each announced by Mr. Bailey, were another song transcription (perhaps the Liebestreu, Op. 3, No. 1?) with its two Mendelssohnian concluding chords, and the tender Brahms Lullaby, Op. 49, No. 4. Here as throughout this radiant recital instrumental display never got in the way of romantic refinement.

Napa Valley Symphony Executive Director Richard Aldag presided over the festivities that included a pre-music reception and a lavish post-music dinner with the artists.