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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 ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
American Philharmonic Sonoma County / Sunday, May 06, 2012
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Brigitte Armenier, piano. James Warren, organ.

Brigitte Armenier Receiving Applause May 6 (Andreas Knuttel photo)

SONIC SPLENDOR IN FINAL APSC CONCERT AT WELLS

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 06, 2012

May 6 marked the American Philharmonic Sonoma County's final concert in the Wells Fargo Center, and with the Santa Rosa Symphony leaving Wells after mid-May, orchestra events may soon be a dim memory in the venerable hall.

An audience of 950 sat through the usual bevy of announcements and raffle prizes, along with candidate conductor Norman Gamboa's slightly inane descriptions of what the concert's two compositions meant to him. But it was that kind of event, and the crowd was heavily sprinkled with young people, much to the delight of APSC's board.

But what of the music? Saint Saëns' monumental "Organ" Symphony occupied the second half of the program, with James Warren playing the minimal organ part. The opening Adagio began with a whisper, the string sections matching perfectly with richly hued solos from clarinetist Jeff Chan and flutist Emily eynolds. Though Mr. Gamboa gave little subtlety to the long Saint Saëns phrases, he sculpted the sensuous arching theme in the second movement deftly. And what a theme it is, reminiscent of the closing first movement melody in the same composer's C Minor Piano Concerto. The slow tempos favored by the conductor throughout the afternoon were here delicately precise.

The Allen organ, a massive electric instrument driving a line of speakers behind the brass section, sounded made for the hall, but its sparing use made one want to hear it more often. Mr. Warren, who apparently supplied the instrument, was a capable performer, but he sat by for long stretches without much to do.

The Allegro Moderato third movement was played with bounce but lacked clarity. Perhaps playing Presto sections without overlapping balances and phrase cutoffs is beyond the Philharmonic. In any event, the effect was scrappy. In the finale, the energy of the music carried the day, beginning with a wonderfully loud 32-foot organ stop and generating the requisite menace as the movement grew. There was outstanding playing by oboist Chris Krive and clarinetist Chan, both leading to an abbreviated fugue that began in the strings.

Mr. Gamboa was clearly in his element towards the end the symphony. The APSC created a tsunami of sound that drew the audience to its feet after the last chord. The conductor then recognized individual sections and players while enjoying the ovation.

Beethoven's E Flat Concerto, Op. 73, opened the program, with local pianist Brigitte Armenier playing the demanding solo part. Here again the conductor chose spacious tempos, which seemed to suit the pianist. Ms. Armenier lacks a big technique and a heroic approach to this most heroic of pieces; but what she brought to the work was a compelling intensity without extraneous details. She is an artist focused on the job at hand without sartorial puffery or platform theatrics. Her scale playing was lucid, and she offered brilliant right-hand trills.

The opening Allegro went smoothly with just a hint of problems to come in connecting the piano part with the orchestra. Several of the ascending runs began with the tuttis still ringing in the hall. Perhaps this was Ms. Armenier's choice, as she didn’t begin the runs with dampers raised to mimic the ambient sound, a method used in long-past "Emperor" performances.

The following B Major middle movement was gorgeous, with Nick Xenelis providing beguiling clarinet solos and Ms. Armenier's tone the most lustrous of the day, even in the top register. The effect was captivating. Moving directly into the Rondo finale, Mr. Gamboa had difficulty keeping the APSC in sync with the pianist, the latter gamely jumping ahead when possible. Technically Ms. Armenier was in good form, her right-hand skips on target. In a surprising deviation from contemporary practice, she doubled the left-hand B Flats at bars 229 and 237 to resounding effect.

To have a local and largely unsung pianist play this masterwork on an auspicious occasion with Mr. Gamboa's committed if wayward direction was a fitting end for the Wells Fargo chapter of APSC's 13 years of unconventional music making.

Next season the APSC will revisit the format of two-set programs, four in all, at the refurbished 900-seat Santa Rosa High School Auditorium. This hall was once the home of the Santa Rosa Symphony under Corrick Brown. What remains to be seen is if the APSC can transfer the palpable glamor of the "people's orchestra" into the small space on Mendocino Avenue.