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Recital
SCHUMANN AND BARTOK HIGHLIGHT BRONFMAN RECITAL IN WEILL
by Lee Ormasa
Friday, April 21, 2017
Those people once addicted to the “Angry Birds” game application likely suffered an auditory flashback during the opening measures of the allegro from Bartok’s Suite, Op. 14, the opening work in Yefim Bronfman’s April 21 recital at Weill Hall. The repetitive opening figures of the Bartok were...
Symphony
HULKING MAHLER "TITAN" AT SO CO PHIL'S SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 08, 2017
A composer’s first symphony rarely gives a clear indication of what beautiful complexities will follow over the years. Early Mozart and Tchaikovsky are examples, and the big exceptions to this axiom are the “firsts” of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler. Tackling Mahler ‘s D Major Symphony (No. 1,...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STAYS CLOSE TO HOME
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Santa Rosa Symphony concerts usually feature high-powered soloists imported from afar, but for their recent “Bring on the Strings” concert set, they stuck close to home, thrusting their principal violin, viola and cello into the limelight. The violinist (Joseph Edelberg) and the violist (Elizabeth P...
Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
RECITAL REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Sunday, September 29, 2013
Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano. Warren Jones, piano

Soprano Ruth Ann Swenson

RUTH ANN SWENSON TRIUMPHS IN EFFERVESCENT WEILL HALL DEBUT RECITAL

by Vaida Falconbridge and Mary Beard
Sunday, September 29, 2013

It’s always a treat to be in the audience when a famous soprano is performing with stellar artistry, exuding warmth and confidence, as it was when Ruth Ann Swenson sang Sept. 29 to an enthusiastic, mostly-full crowd in Weill Hall that clearly included lots of fans, students and friends. She performed with pianist Warren Jones and the pair were greeted walking onto the stage with an ovation that went on for almost a minute.

There was no particular theme in Sunday’s recital and it seemed Ms. Swenson chose repertoire that she personally loves, showcasing her formidable technique and gleaming tone, and that she knew would please her audience. Many of the great composers of vocal music were featured, with song sets in Italian, French, English and German, opera arias by Mozart and Handel, and venturing all the way into Great American Songbook standards.

Famed as a bel canto specialist throughout her career, Ms. Swenson started the program with five Italian art songs by Bellini and Verdi. The Bellini selections, “Il fervido desiderio” and “Almen se non poss’io,” were lovely openers, light and easy, rich and warm, but the Verdi songs were especially noteworthy. “E la vita” featured a lovely, very short melody—a perfect little gem. “La seduzione” was a gorgeous song, gorgeously sung, and almost operatic in the way it portrayed the dramatic arc of a love story that turned into a tragedy about a young woman seduced and betrayed. The singer expressed the touching drama without ever compromising her resonant instrument, and could always be heard (unfortunately not always true of singers in Weill), even on soft pianissimo notes. “Stornello” was a sassy, defiant little showpiece, with a well-sung trill topping it off, showing Ms. Swenson’s spunky, capricious side in this delightful song.

Idomeneo was Mozart’s first opera seria, with a plot based on an ancient Greek story that takes place on the isle of Crete shortly after the Trojan War, and written when he was 24 years old. Ms. Swenson performed the highly emotional aria assigned to the character Ilia, singing “Quanti mi siete intorno…Padre, germani, addio,” full of dramatic colors and shadings. In short, a diva vehicle, showing her ability to be emotionally expressive of the despair of the song and yet also very agile.

Collaborating with the soprano was the “magnificent pianist Warren Jones,” as Ms. Swenson introduced him from the stage. In a departure from traditional vocal recital format, Mr. Jones performed at this juncture Three Pieces from Brahms’ Op. 118. Mr. Jones began with two intermezzi, passionate and sensitive, sweeping us into full-blown heart-wrenching romanticism. He ended the set with “Ballade” which was fiery and exciting, powerful but effortless, and with a strong bass as the piece demands.

In the second half of the program, Mr. Jones elegantly performed four of the Op. 67 Chopin Mazurkas, in G, G Minor, C and A Minor, which were found on Chopin’s piano after his death, and the playing showed Mr. Jones’ poetic heart and his ability to make the piano bid his expressive will. One interesting detail in regards to Mr. Jones playing was that he left the piano’s music stand lying flat, with the vocal/piano scores on top of it, rather than the usual upright position one ordinarily sees. His page turning was so smooth as to be almost imperceptible. Quite a feat!

Closing out the first half of the program were two arias from Handel’s opera Semele, completely contrasting in mood and dramatic thrust. “O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?” featured Ms. Swenson’s perfect sustained notes and legato melismas, periodically ornamented with clean, well-articulated trills, and several lovely floating high notes. In “Myself I shall adore” Miss Swenson let loose with a very playful rendition, thoroughly delighting the audience and causing laughter more than once. Making clever use of a hand mirror as a prop while delivering fusillades of staccato patterns, runs, and trills in a thrilling agility showcase, she sang the racing coloratura sections with total clarity and accuracy without resorting to “h’s” or glottal attacks. Her ability to sing such clear coloratura has always been one of her greatest vocal talents.

Three French chansons opened the second half. Hahn’s “L’heure exquise” is a haunting little masterpiece, yet full of challenges for the singer, with long sustained phrases and large interval leaps of a sixth up into soft, shimmering, high notes. More than one person was wiping their eyes after this song. “Le Soir” was a charming romantic miniature by the opera composer Thomas, and Bizet’s “Ouvre ton coeur” was a flashy, Spanish-flavored virtuoso confection for both soprano and piano.

The German set featured three of Strauss’ better-known songs, but songs Ms. Swenson was performing for the first time: Allerseelen, Breit uber mein Haupt, and Zueignung. All three dealt with different aspects of love, and were sung with great feeling, conviction, and beauty of tone. Her expressive German consonants never broke the flow of the legato lines.

Nearing the end of the program, the artists brought to life several selections from the Great American Songbook, including works by Barer and Martin, Berlin, Gershwin, and Rodgers and Hart, all arranged for the singer by pianist, composer and vocal coach Richard Riccardi. Mr. Riccardi was in the audience and was given an ovation. The arrangements were absolutely spectacular, a virtuosic classical-jazz hybrid and sheer delight, like silvery filigree weaving in and around the vocal line. Ms. Swenson displayed great versatility in this group, changing colors in her voice to meet the more contemporary demands of this style. Her lower range in these songs was remarkably full and rich, with absolutely no loss of body in the tone, as can often happen in higher voices after singing for extended periods of time.

Lehar’s “Love, Live Forever” from the operetta Paganini, including a stellar high D as the penultimate note, provided the appropriate grand ending to a satisfying afternoon with two admired and popular artists. After receiving several bouquets, the duo was called back for an encore. Ms. Swenson sang Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the movie Wizard of Ozto a rapt audience, frozen by the plaintive purity of her sound.

Sonoma County has been blessed with many vocal recitals since Weill opened last year, and this one ranks among the best. Warren Jones is a master pianist because one never thinks of him as ‘accompanying,’ but rather one of two characters in an ever-changing series of dramas, and who completely trust each other musically, and who obviously love making music together. What Ms. Swenson can do with her vocal instrument and masterful technique, in such a free, heart-stirring way, is exceptional. One left the recital not just impressed with the performers' artistry, but also feeling joyfully expanded inside, having witnessed something very special.