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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Russian River Chamber Music / Friday, September 5, 2008
Rossetti String Quartet

Rossetti String Quartet

WHO'S ON FIRST?

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Inspiration is hard to come by. Abundant proof of that truism was in evidence at the Rossetti String Quartet performance in Healdsburg on Sept. 5, as part of the Russian River Chamber Music (RRCM) series. This talented and accomplished foursome—one of hundreds of such groups currently performing—showed occasional flashes of brilliance but mostly settled for the ordinary.

String quartets are flourishing these days. There are more than a dozen professional quartets in California alone, including not only the Rossetti, but also the St. Lawrence, the Cypress, the Ives and the Alexander—all of whom will be playing in RRCM’s “Made in California” series this season.
With that sort of competition, it’s hard to stand out. Some quartets try to make themselves distinctive through their dress, their stage presence or their repertoire. But what matters most, of course, is their playing.

The Rossetti offered a little bit of all the above, embodied in their burly violist, Thomas Diener. He wore a black shirt with intricate white embroidery culminating in monogrammed cuffs. The fourth finger of his bow hand was beset with an enormous ring that occasionally glinted in the stage lights. He sat straight up in his chair, occupying most of the middle of the quartet, increasing his presence on occasion by rising up out of his seat or leaning over to gaze at his neighboring cellist or second violinist.

As to the repertoire, it ranged only from the standard (Mozart and Beethoven) to the tamely modern (Bernard Hermann and Astor Piazzola). Within these somewhat narrow confines, great playing has to carry the day.

That appeared to be the case with the opening Mozart, K. 387, the first of the six quartets dedicated to Haydn. The musicians began by looking at each other, and they continued to do so throughout the quartet, exchanging glances and flashing smiles, many of them directed at violinist Tereza Stanislav, the only female in the group.

This interaction was reflected in the playing, with precise attention to individual lines, well-executed crescendos, and adroit phrasing. Henry Gronnier, playing first violin, had a bright sound that led the way. His shifting, however, was often too abrupt, impeding his fluidity. Stanislav, at second, exhibited a warm tone, and cellist Eric Gaenslen provided a rock-solid lower voice. One of the high points came in the second movement, when Gaenslen sustained a single note, aided and abetted by the violist, Diener, who leaned closer and closer as the note increased in volume and effect.

K. 387 is filled with extremes of emotion, from the bright opening movement, to the graceful Menuetto of the second, to the profound depths of the Andante cantabile third—all capped by the utter joyousness of the final Molto allegro. The Rossetti proved sympathetic to Mozart’s emotional states, and the resulting performance offered a glimpse of this beloved composer’s true genius.

After this promising beginning, violinists Gronnier and Stanislav switched chairs to play “Echoes” by Bernard Herrmann, the 20th-century American composer best known for his Alfred Hitchcock film scores. The main echo seemed to be of Herrmann’s movie work: “Echoes” sounded for all the world like background music to a suspenseful romance.

The affair began with simple two-note phrases, either ascending or descending. The phrases gradually evolved into triplets and then into an ostinato (repeated) figure, a classic tension-builder for thrillers. The work progressed in this fashion at a leisurely pace, not so much from movement to movement as from scene to scene. We got the moonlit evening on the beach, the meaningful pizzicato footsteps and finally the ponticello (playing near the bridge) tremolo, suggestive of pending denouement.

In contrast to the Mozart, the Rossetti kept pretty much to themselves during “Echoes,” their eyes fixed on their scores. The lack of interaction may have been caused by the switch in violinists, or perhaps by their unfamiliarity with the work. In any event, the performance suffered, making “Echoes” sound even more formulaic than it already was.

Stanislav continued as first violinist in the Beethoven Op. 18, No. 3, which opened the second half. She is an accomplished violinist with fluid fingering and elegant bowing, but she sits so erect and immobile in her chair that she looks like a statue with moving arms. Her playing is flawless but austere, and her eyes are riveted on the score. The net result of all these characteristics is a lack of emotional intensity and interaction with her fellow players.

All the notes of the Beethoven were there, but the performance never really took off, except for a brief flash of brilliance in the closing Presto.

Matters improved somewhat when Gronnier returned to first violin for Piazzola’s “Tango Ballet.” What he lacks in finesse he makes up for in feeling. Parts of the tango really began to swing, and the players started eyeing their partners once again.

The final swoosh of a tango would have made a good ending to the concert, but the Rossetti elected to play an encore: a slow movement from one of Charles Gounod’s nearly forgotten string quartets. The immobile Stanislav was again on first violin, but the French composer’s operatic melodies seemed to suit her better than the Beethoven. She even began to sway.

In the end, the game of musical chairs in the violin section seemed to sum up the Rossetti’s difficulties. They have the talent, but they haven’t yet figured out how to make a consistently inspiring sound.