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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
Tiburon Music Festival / Saturday, June 28, 2008
Three for Piano & Strings

AN ORCHESTRAL SEXTET

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, June 28, 2008

On paper, the closing concert of the Tiburon Music Festival June 28 seemed a chancy venture. Two well-known piano concertos were to be performed with a soloist and an orchestra of just five string players. No winds, brass or percussion, no weight in the sections to produce mighty sound to honor the mighty Haydn and Beethoven.

The musical results? Impressive, convincing in their own way, but giving no great desire to displace the originals.

The final event of seven-concert Festival, all at St. Hilary Church, attracted 200 people, many curious to hear how Beethoven’s magisterial G Major Concerto, Op. 58, would unfold with minimal forces. Festival Director Paul Smith conducted from the piano with sparse hand gestures and head movements replacing a conductor’s baton. The simple opening statement from the piano set a dignified reference point and a slow tempo, both continuing until the sublime Andante con Moto. String pitch problems quickly settled down, and the low cello and bass frequencies were strong enough to cover the two violins and viola. The bright church acoustics favor these frequencies, and added much to the volume of bowed-string sound. Paul Rhodes played an elegant and sonorous cello line throughout, and had short but lush duos with Mr. Smith. The piano plays with the strings in places not heard in the original c. 1806 Concerto, and the cadenza was not wholly Beethoven, or even the Reinecke, which was once popular. It’s slightly jarring, but not at all irritating, to hear such a masterwork played this way. Mr. Smith’s trills, expressive and often very fast, were telling all evening.

The second movement was inspiring, each instrument carefully balancing the somber nature of the music, and the opening of the concluding Rondo-Vivace was a call to arms. Here the usual heft in the strings was missed, but the group’s focus was the interplay of question and answer, cello to piano, piano to Pamela Carey’s lead violin, sforzandos snapping. The shortened cadenza was mostly Beethoven, but perhaps something of Mr. Smith also? The ending had authority, and generated a standing ovation.

In the first half, the ensemble played Aulis Sallinen’s 1997 Introduction and Tango Overture, a less-than-ten minute exploration of powerful rhythmic possibilities. The introduction was somber, strident dissonances relaxing into atmospheric chorales. The Tango finally came, but it was far from the tango of the Argentinean bandoneon. The insistent rhythms here were performed for dramatic rather than seductive effect, and the unexpected ending was pungent. Wonderful stuff for a piano sextet, and there isn’t too much heard for this combination, past the Chausson Concerto, Op. 21, and the Mendelssohn Sextet. I vote for the Chausson next year.

Preceding the Sallinen and providing sharp contrast for the Beethoven was Haydn’s D Major Concerto, here again with the resident Sextet. Mr. Smith spoke to the audience about the provenance of the score reductions, and that transparent textures are mandatory. Playing frequently with the shift pedal, Mr. Smith led a taut performance, pushing the pace that often just had the strings arriving together at phrase endings. There is much Mozart in the Un Poco Adagio, with the upward progressions equally shared, and a short keyboard trill leading to the final Rondo. Here the many modulations brought variety to the music, the fast scales from the piano occasionally indistinct but always well integrated with the strings. Haydn’s most popular piano concerto, from about 1781, was gracefully served.

One would be remiss by not mentioning details which made the initial Tiburon Festival an event of substance – many works of Marin composers, performers from the SF Bay area, signature posters and wine labels, a sparkling facility and generous supplies of excellent gratis hors d’oeuvres. It was exotic to encounter oysters as intermission fare. I hope these happy traditions continue in next June’s Festival.