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Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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...
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.