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Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STAYS CLOSE TO HOME
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Santa Rosa Symphony concerts usually feature high-powered soloists imported from afar, but for their recent “Bring on the Strings” concert set, they stuck close to home, thrusting their principal violin, viola and cello into the limelight. The violinist (Joseph Edelberg) and the violist (Elizabeth P...
Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, December 08, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir. Jenni Samuleson, soprano: Christine Brandes, mezzo-soprano; Brian Thorsett,tenor;
Philip Skinner, bass-baritone

Soprano Christine Brandes

OLD TESTAMENT AND NEW

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 08, 2013

Way back in 1995, when Jeffrey Kahane was just beginning to conduct the Santa Rosa Symphony, the local music critic incurred Kahane's wrath by writing an unfavorable review of a concert that included music by Leonard Bernstein. In essence, the critic opined that Bernstein was merely a show-biz composer, undeserving of serious recognition. Kahane retaliated by preceding subsequent concerts with a stern lecture to the audience extolling Bernstein's virtues and explaining why he should be taken seriously.

Be all that as it may, the Symphony--now conducted by Bruno Ferrandis--has programmed precious little Bernstein since then, so the inclusion of the composer's "Jeremiah" Symphony for its Dec. 8 concert at Weill Hall came as something of a surprise. This unfamiliar work, first performed in 1944, is one of Bernstein's earliest, but it contains many characteristic elements, instantly recognizable to anyone who's heard "West Side Story" or "On the Waterfront." Indeed, the first two movements of the symphony could easily serve as a film score--this time to a biblical epic.

All the Hollywood tropes are there: the brass fanfare, the emphatic drumbeat, the surging strings. In the first movement, you can almost see the prophet Jeremiah staggering across a back-lot desert. In the second, he stumbles into a profane dance party where bodies twirl to an insistent jagged rhythm and an oft-repeated six-note phrase. It's all well orchestrated, but the music has little import--until a mezzo-soprano walks onstage and opens the third movement with a heartfelt lament.

The singer in this case was Bay Area favorite Christine Brandes, who instantly injected some gravitas into the proceedings, courtesy of Bernstein's score. The third and final movement of the symphony was originally conceived as a stand-alone piece for soprano and orchestra, and it could easily resume that state. The difference between the first two movements and the third is night and day: Hollywood soundtrack vs. serious music.

Brandes was nothing if not serious. Wearing a black shawl and an elegant black-and-gold gown, she sang each note to its full value, with well-controlled vibrato. She was particularly riveting in her lower range, filling the hall with opulent sound. Her dramatics were also convincing, save for the few times she glanced at her score; she would have been better served by memorizing it. That quibble aside, it was a memorable performance, much appreciated by the nearly full house.

Less appreciated was the opening work, Leopold Mozart's frivolous "Toy Symphony," featuring five local non-musical celebrity soloists aided by Symphony trumpeter Doug Morton and soprano Dianna Richardson, a member of the Symphony's honor choir. The celebrities played toy instruments--including a bird whistle, a noisemaker and a wind machine--over a thin bed of sound from a much-reduced orchestra. While it was tolerably amusing to see the mayor of Santa Rosa wearing a Santa Claus hat and pounding on a toy drum, the comic effect wore off quickly. The highlight, such as it was, came from Richardson, who sang well.

Good singing was abundant in the second half, devoted to Haydn's "Mass in Time of War." Here Brandes was joined by soprano Jennie Samuelson, tenor Brian Thorsett, bass Philip Skinner, and the hundred or so voices of the Symphony's Honor Choir, directed by Robert Worth. The choir dominated the mass, both musically and spatially, looming above the orchestra in the Hall's distinctive Choral Circle. That position above the main stage allows the choir much better projection than when they're relegated to risers behind the orchestra.

The choir asserted its dominance in the opening Kyrie, clearly articulating the words and ringing out above the orchestra. Samuelson's opening solo was a bit fuzzy around the edges, but Brandes was crystal clear. The Kyrie is unusually sprightly, leading into a lilting Gloria. Here the choir kept pace with Ferrandis's brisk tempo, which didn't slow until the bass solo at "Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi" (son of the Father, who takest away the sins of the world). Ably accompanied by cellist Robin Bonnell, Skinner unleashed a window-rattling sound, fully embodying the plaintive text.

The subsequent Credo continued, and even elevated, the energy of the Gloria. Ferrandis was a model of exactitude as he cued each choral entry in the opening fugue and exhorted the under-represented tenors to sing louder. The low organ note after "et sepultus est" (and was buried) was wonderfully dramatic, leading into a superb "Et resurrexit tertia die" (and the third day he rose again) from the chorus.

The tenor gets only a brief solo in the Sanctus, but Thorsett made the most of it, displaying a pure tone and remarkable power. He joined with the other soloists for the high point of Haydn's mass--the remarkable Benedictus quartet. Here the word "benedictus" is carried from one soloist to the next, who interact like members of a string quartet. All the voices were good, but Thorsett really stood out.

The concluding Agnus Dei, with its famous drum roll, was almost a match for the Benedictus. The chorus sang beautifully, and the final "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace) was uplifting, a wonderful ending to an inspired performance.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.