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Symphony
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...
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.