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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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.