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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.