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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
RECITAL REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Sunday, September 15, 2013
Renée Fleming, soprano. Gerald Martin Moore,piano

Soprano Renée Fleming

GOLD, SILVER, PLATINUM

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two songs into her first-ever concert at Weill Hall, Renée Fleming got a laugh by saying, "I'm so excited when I can still make a debut." At 54, Fleming has sung just about everywhere of any consequence, but she still brings a youthful enthusiasm to her performances, along with a youthful voice.

Those first two songs, sung to a nearly full house and lawn on a glorious September afternoon, were actually arias from Handel oratorios: "To Fleeting Pleasures" from Samson, and "O Sleep" from Semele. The latter was mesmerizing, starting on an elaborate glissando on the opening "O" that landed perfectly on pitch. Even more impressive was the fervor with which Fleming sang the plaintive lyrics: "O sleep, again deceive me, to my arms restore my wand'ring love!"

The Handel arias established a pattern that held true throughout the afternoon. Fleming sang with conviction, successfully inhabiting a series of operatic and musical characters, each one thoroughly convincing. Whether enacting Handel's Cleopatra or Leonard Bernstein's Maria, Fleming fit the part, even though her costume changed only once, at intermission.

For those intrigued by such matters, Fleming helpfully announced that the silvery gray evening gown and shawl she wore in the first half were by Vivian Westwood (an English designer famous for punk fashions), whereas the golden dress and coat of the second half were by Angel Sanchez (a Venezuelan with many star clients).

While the wardrobe helped focus attention on Fleming, all that really mattered was what came out of her mouth, and that was consistently excellent, with only a few minor blemishes. One of those arrived at the beginning of the second half, when she didn't quite slide into a high note in Erich Korngold's "Marietta's Lied" (Marietta's song). The other came a few songs later, when she was likewise flat in Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" (Oh my dear father). But the rest was musical nirvana.

Not to be ignored was her accompanist Gerald Martin Moore, a pianist of great delicacy and refinement who managed to summon an entire orchestra with just 10 fingers, two feet and an ever-so-slightly open piano lid. Fleming often gripped the edge of that lid with her right hand, standing comfortably inside the piano's sweeping curve.

Their program was as varied as two dozen songs could be, ranging from the Handel arias, to orchestral songs by Richard Strauss, to American folksongs, to Italian opera, to "The Sound of Music." From a musical standpoint, the three Strauss songs were the highlight of the afternoon.

After declaring Strauss to be her "desert island composer," Fleming launched into a feathery light performance of "Ständchen" (Serenade), giving full meaning to "The brook scarcely murmurs, the breeze scarcely stirs." She then abruptly shifted into the impassioned text of "Morgen" (Morning), executing a gripping crescendo on the opening line: "Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen" (And tomorrow the sun will shine again). Equally gripping was her rendition of the third Strauss song, "Zueignung" (Dedication). Her vibrato here was unobtrusive and carefully controlled, and her gestures were convincing.

Two folksongs by Joseph Canteloube were next, followed by Léo Delibes' wonderful "Les filles de Cadix" (The girls of Cadiz). Here Fleming's coloratura took center stage, as she slid deliriously from low note to high, channeling the soul of a Spanish maiden dancing the bolero. More folksongs followed, beginning with a medley of "The Water is Wide" and "Shenandoah," then moving on to "Wild Horses," by Jean Richie. Fleming hadn't quite memorized the Richie song, so she kept glancing at the text atop the piano lid.

The first half concluded with a somewhat peculiar rendition of the first few lines of The Declaration of Independence by the contemporary composer J. Todd Frazier. Jefferson's polysyllabic prose is about as far away from lyric as one can get, and the musical result was more of a recitative than a song.

The second half was mostly given over to lighter fare, with the notable exception of the opening number, Korngold's "Marietta's Lied." This fabulous aria makes one want to hear the rest of his rarely performed youthful opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Despite the aforementioned blemish, Fleming brought Marietta fully to life, one of the afternoon's most memorable characters.

Two waltzy songs about Vienna followed, with Fleming in full swing, and then three Italian opera arias, including the Puccini. These were all well done, but there weren't any standouts.

The real crowd-pleasers came in the last part of the program, devoted to American musicals. Despite an initial memory lapse, Fleming clearly enunciated all the many words of Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty," and she gave a heartfelt performance of his "Somewhere," both from West Side Story. From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to "The Sound of Music" and "A Wonderful Guy."

Following boisterous applause, Fleming offered just one encore, "I could have danced all night," inducing the crowd to sing along as she improvised some vocal colorings and a resounding high note at the end.