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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 itís 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 Handelís seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if itís 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 Purcellís Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the schoolís 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 Rossiniís ďWilliam TellĒ 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 Philharmonicís 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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, November 21, 2013
Semyon Bychkov, conductor. Till Fellner, piano

Conductor Semyon Bychkov

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, November 21, 2013

One way to get a free glass of wine is to buy a ticket to a San Francisco Symphony concert at the Green Music Center, wait for a dark and stormy night, then stroll into Weill Hall and behold a nearly empty stage, with only a solitary cellist tuning his instrument.

That's what happened on Thursday evening, Nov. 21, when the Symphony's buses were delayed on Highway 101 by a fallen tree and a massive traffic jam. Promptly at 8, a Symphony representative walked on stage and announced that the concert would be postponed until 8:30, at which point GMC Executive Director Larry Furukawa-Schlereth announced that everyone would get a free glass of wine. A mass exodus ensued.

The stormy night provided a fitting context for the eventual program, which did begin as promised. The first half offered the brooding Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24, one of his few concertos in a minor key (C minor), and perhaps his most introspective. Mozart's anguish then gave way in the second half to Richard Strauss's ebullient "An Alpine Symphony," a veritable avalanche of sound, complete with wind and thunder machines.

Austrian pianist Till Fellner played the role of Mozart, who premiered his C minor concerto in April 1786 to a presumably befuddled Viennese audience. Unlike almost all his other concertos, the C minor is neither happy, nor flashy, nor crowd-pleasing. It's also not so much a piano concerto as a sinfonia concertante for woodwinds, who are featured throughout the work.

Fellner is an exceedingly correct pianist. He sits ramrod-straight on the piano bench, with nary a wasted motion. When playing, his elbows are just slightly bent, but somehow his fingers act as spring-loaded triggers, striking the keys with the utmost precision and fortitude.

Gently urged forward by guest conductor Semyon Bychkov, a reduced band of Symphony players intoned the concerto's doleful introduction, which sounds like the beginning of a march to the scaffold. The tempo was luxuriant, the motion fluid, the texture polished. Upon entry, Fellner was a model of restraint, playing his line with the utmost precision and extolling the virtues of quietude. His only release came during the operatic cadenza, which he played to perfection.

The restraint continued into the second movement, where Fellner offered an almost staccato approach to the deceptively simple melody (one note, then two, then three ascending, then five descending) that recurs throughout the Rondo form. His touch was feather-light, his timing impeccable.

The tempo was again luxurious in the finale, a set of variations with occasional glimpses of a major key within an ultimately triumphant minor mode. Fellner's left hand was particularly strong in bringing out the grim rhythms and moods that dominate the work. At the end, the applause from the nearly full house was subdued, without the customary ovation--but then it's hard to imagine anyone jumping up and cheering after such a somber work.

The ovation came at the end of the program, after an impassioned reading of Richard Strauss's "Alpine Symphony," the last in his long series of tone poems. The term "symphony" is actually a misnomer in this case because the work is just one long movement with 22 separate episodes, with little of the thematic development that one encounters in a typical symphony. Instead, it's all about painting pictures with sound.

Strauss works on a massive canvas with an inordinate number of brushes and colors. His score calls for about 130 players on a stupefying array of instruments, including not only the aforementioned wind and thunder machines, but also a heckelphone (bass oboe), four Wagner horns, innumerable percussion instruments, an organ, two harps and an offstage brass ensemble.

Keeping this menagerie under control is more than a challenge, but Bychkov seemed utterly unperturbed. He kept his feet firmly planted on the podium, compelling the orchestra to do his bidding through graceful movements of his baton and occasional shakes of his curly hair. The low, slow beginning ("Night") seemed almost frozen, with the violins barely moving their bows. In time, this gave way to a massive crescendo ("Sunrise") that threatened to break the windows.

And so it went throughout the misnamed symphony. Each of the 22 episodes came into being, offered its specific sonic image ("At the Waterfall," "On Flowering Meadows," "On the Glacier"), then either faded out or butted heads with the next. Within the episodes, the sound was often shimmering, iridescent and luminous, the spectacular result of Strauss's finely crafted orchestration.

Inevitably, the climax came toward the end, with a thoroughly convincing "Thunderstorm and Tempest." Everyone on stage played at top volume, and the percussionist manning the wind machine nearly tore his arm out of its socket while winding the contraption around and around. This prodigious display of force gradually morphed into a truly magical section beginning with the organ invoking the blessed silence of a church, followed by magisterial and gradually waning tones from the rest of the mighty ensemble. At the end, Bychkov held his hands aloft for a long moment before summoning the thunderous applause.