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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
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 REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, January 23, 2014
Alexander Barantschick, conductor and violin

Violinist Alexander Barantschick

IN THE PRIME OF YOUTH

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, January 23, 2014

Youth was the order of the day at the San Francisco Symphony's Jan. 23 concert in Weill Hall. Three of the four pieces on the program were written by teenaged composers--Mozart, Mendelssohn, Britten--and the fourth, by Piazzolla, included a youthful tango.

On the other hand, most of the musicians were middle-aged. There were only two dozen or so, a remarkably diminished version of an ensemble that had numbered well over 100 in its last appearance at Weill Hall, to play Richard Strauss's mammoth "Alpine Symphony." This time the orchestra was restricted to 14 violins, three violas, four cellos and two basses. Later they added a bandoneón player, a pianist and a drummer.

It was somewhat incongruous to see the drum set looming behind the orchestra in the opening work, Mozart's Divertimento in F major, K. 138, written when he was 16. Instead of the drums, the rhythm was supplied by the violas and cellos, who subsisted on a steady diet of eighth notes beneath the violins' soaring melodies. The putative conductor was Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, but he did little more than lift his bow and occasionally nod at the cellos and basses from his first-chair position.

No conductor was needed in any event. The musicians played as one, with a remarkable unanimity of timbre, tempo and dynamics. The result was youth incarnate: Mozart shining forth in all the glory of his genius. Of the three movements, the second was the most memorable. Its beatific melody evoked Alpine clouds floating over Mozart's native Salzburg, their motion assisted by superb dynamics and evocative playing.

The milieu for the next piece shifted to the Mendelssohn family's sumptuous parlor in Berlin, where young Felix regularly trotted out new compositions for the assembled guests. This one was a violin concerto composed when he was 13, definitely not to be confused with his later masterful effort in the genre.

Standing up from his chair, Barantschik faced the audience, with the orchestra at his back. Playing from score, he never once turned around to conduct, relying once again on the musicians' collective unconscious. In comparison to the youthful Mozart, the youthful Mendelssohn is mostly superficial, given to glittering runs and crowd-pleasing cadenzas. The concerto, which had been forgotten for more than a century before being revived by Yehudi Menuhin, is pleasant but insubstantial.

Like the concerto, Barantschik's playing dwelled on the surface, without too much emotional investment. He has an almost flawless technique and uses minimal body motion, much like his fellow Russian predecessor Jascha Heifetz, one of whose violins he plays. The only oddity is that he grips his bow well up the stick, almost in Baroque position, avoiding his frog like the plague.

The lush sound of orchestra and soloist was remarkably consistent throughout the concerto, even during the slow second movement, which was disrupted by a medical emergency at the back of the hall. Undeterred, Barantschik played without pause, plunging into the gypsy-inspired final movement with alacrity. The long cadenza at the end was a perpetuum mobile that elicited loud applause.

Although Benjamin Britten completed his "Simple Symphony" when he was 20, the four movements are all based on pieces he wrote from the ages of 10 to 13. He is much closer to Mozart than Mendelssohn, opting for heartfelt simplicity rather than superficial complexity. The second movement, "Playful Pizzicato," is especially charming, from the resonant bass plucking to the sudden intrusion of folksong-like strumming. Again, the conductorless orchestra played with remarkable coherence, with everyone on the same dynamic and beat.

Youth succumbed to old age in the final piece(s), the "Melodia" and "Libertango" of Astor Piazzolla, adapted for string orchestra, solo violin and bandoneón by Jeremy Cohen, who also wrote a violin cadenza linking the two. Barantschik again took the solo role, joined by bandoneón player Seth Arsanow.

For those unfamiliar with the bandoneón, it resembles an accordion, with a bellows in the middle and keys on either end--but the bandoneón bellows are much longer than an accordion's and are draped across the player's knee like a massive snake. Their undulating movement becomes as much a part of the performance as the sound they produce.

Arsarnow played his instrument superbly, creating heart-breaking sounds that echoed throughout the hall. The opening "Melodia" was pure romance, a welter of emotions in a melancholy frame. After the transitional violin cadenza, Arsarnow started the concluding youthful tango by tapping the bandoneón with his right hand. The drums entered, and soon the entire orchestra was figuratively prancing across the stage to the tango's distinctive rhythm. The crowd loved it, leaping to their feet at the end.