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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...
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.