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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
Oakmont Concert Series / Thursday, September 13, 2012
Jennifer Culp, cello; Betty Woo, piano

Cellist Jennifer Culp

BEETHOVEN VARIATIONS HIGHLIGHT CULP-WOO RECITAL AT OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cellist Jennifer Culp brought a surprise to her Oakmont Concert Series performance on Sept. 13 when she opened with Barber’s early Cello Sonata, Op. 6. Beginning with a tonal yet difficult to assimilate work was a good choice, as mostly familiar pieces filled out the recital before about 125 patrons in Berger Auditorium.

Partnering with long-time collaborator pianist Betty Woo, Ms. Culp played the three-movement Barber sonata with solid technical command and admirable balance with the piano. Her sound is rich, never thin nor weak, and her control of pianissimo all afternoon was exemplary. The extended and often segmented Adagio movement is at the center of the sonata, and it had parts that were dreamy and rhapsodic. Barber’s piano part, played by the composer at the 1932 premiere, presented no ostensible difficulties for Ms. Woo, and her emphasis was in the lyricism that appears throughout the piece. Ms. Culp's intonation was secure throughout.

The sonic texture was lightened for Beethoven’s "Twelve Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabaeus," WoO 45. The actual them is “See, The Conquering Hero Comes,” and each of the variations is very individual, including one for the piano alone and several requiring fleet right-hand figurations in the piano part. Ms. Culp’s vibrato was everywhere flexible, and she projected the wonderful theme in many sharp contrasts. Ms. Woo played the third variation’s rapid repeated notes brilliantly. The long penultimate variation (Adagio) was particularly well played, with the arpeggios in the piano part setting off the cello’s thematic statements.

This set of variations, from 1796, is a masterful example of Beethoven’s endless invention, and it received some of the best playing of the concert, along with substantial applause.

A novel transcription of Scriabin’s B-Flat Minor Etude from Op. 11 closed the first half. The etude was an odd program choice as it is short and achingly nostalgic. Piatigorsky’s arrangement has a beautiful ending tessitura, fading away. Ms. Culp played elegantly, with graceful bow attacks and faultless phrasing.

Rachmaninoff’s G Minor Sonata, Op.19, filled the second half. Composed in 1901, this work is acknowledged as one of the foremost cello sonatas of the 20th century. The opening Lento – allegro moderato found the two performers in a pensive mood, and they chose moderate tempos and restrained volume.

The following Scherzo was played more robustly, but it was clear that this was not to be a monumental reading. Ms. Woo played with facile technique, but she didn’t project the luscious themes with a big sonority. By the same token, she never covered the cello line. The audience benefited from the first-rate balances and the haunting themes from the cello in the famous Andante. Ms. Culp seldom leans into the phrases in the Russian style of Shafran, Piatigorsky and Rostropovich, but her burnished tone and patrician singing line were formidable. She eschews the now-popular animated gestures of cello virtuosi. Instead, she plays in a restrained, focused style even during the most intense drama.

The Rachmaninoff is a grateful work for performers and at nearly 30 minutes of opulent romanticism, deeply satisfying for listeners as well. Ms. Culp and Ms. Woo clearly loved playing the sonata.

No encore was offered.