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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
RECITAL REVIEW
Sonoma Classical Music Society / Sunday, February 9, 2014
Alexander String Quartet

Alexander String Quartet

IMPECCABLE BEETHOVEN FROM THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 9, 2014

In the classical music world, snazzy innovation and music puffery catch the headlines, but there is always a role for an instrumental group with long experience and impeccable artistic integrity. The Alexander String Quartet's Feb. 9 concert in the Sonoma Classical Chamber Music Series proved that decades of performance excellence could make an all-Beethoven program seem as familiar and cozy as an old house slipper.

Before a packed Vintage House audience, the Alexander opened with the 1798 C Minor Quartet, Op. 18, No. 4, and gave a svelte and polished reading throughout. There was a uniform blending of sound, with the high-ceiling room favoring cellist Sandy Wilson's cello sound and a desired reverberation time of just under one-half a second. In the second movement (Andante Scherzoso) first violinist Zakarias Grafilo played often with a spiccato bow, and the ensemble was perfection. The dark drama of the Menuetto was played to highlight the piquant harmonies, and the finale was a whirling dance, the Quartet alternating the major and minor keys to a "gypsy" effect. The pizzicato playing was exemplary.

Beethoven's last completed Quartet, Op. 135, closed the first half. Playing in the first movement was insistent but never forceful, the long ascending phrases not melodic but strongly rhythmic. In the tranquil Lento, a peaceful aura was created, the top violin and bottom cello lines surrounding the floating inner voices. Time seem to stop at the end. Though the sharp opening of the finale with themes played in unison was dramatic, the piece's cohesion was palpable. It was a magical performance.

Beethoven's middle-period E Minor Quartet (Op. 59, No. 2) closed the afternoon in a faultless performance where subtle volume changes appeared in each of the four movements. This deftly proportioned playing was never rushed and emphasized long, singing lines. Mr. Grafilo played a section in the Adagio where soft ascending and descending notes were perfectly graded, and Mr. Wilson ended the movement with a long downward phrase of delicacy and finality.

The Presto finale had a wonderful interplay of contrapuntal voices, often beginning with the second violin, and then to violist Paul Yarbrough and the cello and first violin. It was often fast and tenacious playing, jolly and then pushy, with virtuoso work from Mr. Grafilo.

As the West Coast's premier string quartet, the Alexander has appeared in seven of the Sonoma Society's ten seasons, and clearly artistic experience pays rich dividends.