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Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
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...
CHAMBER REVIEW

WARM-UP HAS A FEW COLD SPOTS

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pianist Kenn Gartner is not an artist who makes small statements. In his Aug. 31 recital with soprano Margo-Sherelle Alexander at Guerneville’s Russian River Conservatory, he produced lots of disparate sound, including enough volume to compete with the Labor Day Weekend celebrations at adjacent properties.

Produced by Conservatory Director Seth Montfort, the concert was a warm-up for Gartner and Alexander’s upcoming appearance in San Francisco’s Herbst Theater. The duo’s program, presented to a small audience, featured rarely performed music, such as Wagner’s Wesendonk Lieder, a lush set of five poems set by Wagner in 1857. At the time, he was living in Zurich and had composed “Das Rheingold” and much of “Tristan.”

The haunting “Der Engel” set the tone for the set, with Alexander’s warm lower register and wide vibrato just right for the voluptuous music. Unfortunately, Gartner was too loud throughout, swamping the vocal line in the dramatic “Stehe Still” and during the “Tristan”-like harmonies of “Im Treibhaus.” In the latter, Alexander played off the dissonances from the piano and moved to “Schmerzen” with a beginning forte of considerable power. The beauty of the concluding “Traume” was again hampered by the piano covering Alexander’s voice at the ends of phrases, the held notes at the coda not sounding. It was an odd performance, passionate yet never a convincing whole.

The conservatory’s piano is far below even modest professional standards, an inadequacy that affected Gartner’s solo performances. The first selections, a lyrical Prokofiev work and the rhythm-driven Toccata (1934) of Khachaturian, demanded brilliant playing and received it in large doses from Gartner’s powerful fingers. Even in the Toccata’s colorful mid-section, leading with a big sforszando to the ending, one could sense the pianist wrestling with the “beast” in the small grand.

In the more subdued seventh Nocturne of Chopin (Op. 27, No. 1) and especially with Respighi’s Nocturne, Gartner displayed a poetic touch missing elsewhere. The Respighi had the long line and the essence of a tone poem. There was a puzzling pause in the middle section and overemphasis in the mazurka-like ending, but the reading had heft. Respighi’s piece, arguably his best piano work, reminded one of the best current composers of nocturnes, Lowell Lieberman. Lovely playing.

Alexander then returned to sing “Porgi Amor” from “The Marriage of Figaro,” an aria from “Adriana de Lecouvreur,” and “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess.” There was palpable tenderness in the Mozart, and Alexander’s delivery of “Summertime” reminded one of Leontyne Price. Praise can go no higher. But it was the dramatic pathos and forte ending in the aria from “Adriana” that produced Alexander’s finest singing. The low tessitura suited her voice splendidly, and with damper pedal held down, Gartner equaled the singer’s nearly orchestral sound. The audience response was effusive.

Concluding the day was a performance of Liszt’s 12th Rhapsody and encores of spirituals and “Art is Calling Me” from the 1911 musical “The Enchantress” by Victor Herbert. The Liszt work received a messy reading, Gartner catching the mercurial changes of mood and a Magyar charge to rout the enemy, but with many wrong notes, muddy textures, and overly long tremolos. He has strong hands and can mount effective interlocking octaves and two-note double-third slurs when needed, but ultimately the poor piano could not accept the pounding and the result was more bombast than even the Weimar master intended. In the Herbert, the large tempo fluctuations and the waltz character were elegantly sung.

The Alexander-Gartner duo doesn’t shy away from demanding repertoire or forceful interpretation, and the coming San Francisco concert with a better piano and brighter acoustical resonance should bring a better result.