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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
CHAMBER REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Sunday, February 09, 2014
Venice Baroque Orchestra. Philippe Jaroussky, counter-tenor.

Countertenor Phillipe Jaroussky

COPIOUS VOCAL VIRTUOSITY IN VENICE BAROQUE ORCHESTRA'S WEILL HALL CONCERT

by Joanna Bramel Young and Howard Young
Sunday, February 09, 2014

On a rainy Feb. 9 afternoon an expectant umbrella-carrying audience crowded into Weill Hall to hear arguably the world’s greatest living countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, with the renowned Venice Baroque Orchestra. Eighteenth-century countertenors, called castrati, were young male singers whose manhood had been sacrificed to preserve their soprano range, and which enabled them to sing female roles in operas. Only men were allowed to perform on stage. The castrato known professionally as Farinelli was the most widely celebrated of all Italian singers of his era, the equivalent of today’s rock star. Nowadays countertenors and mezzo sopranos fill that role in historically informed productions of baroque operas and oratorios.

The concert opened with an Overture by Porpora, a Neapolitan composer whose opera company competed in England with that of Handel, both vying for the services of the best singers, to the benefit of discerning audiences. As Farinelli’s demanding vocal instructor, Porpora naturally had the use of his gifts. And Porpora was served well by the Venice Baroque Orchestra on Sunday as it navigated his Overture brilliantly, with quick, crisp tempi, lyrical slow movements and charming solos by the oboes and horns. In the following work, the aria Mira in cielo (Look up to Heaven), also by Porpora, Mr. Jaroussky wasted no time in exhibiting his stunning virtuosity seasoned with expressiveness. With consummate ease his voice flowed from very high notes to rich lows, his intonation always sure. His seeming effortlessness belied his careful shaping of each note in the long melismas sung in brilliant passages. The orchestra worked as a single accompanying instrument, always where needed and never overpowering. Bows were quickly lifted from the strings at the ends of notes, creating a solid yet delicate staccato effect. Every inflection of the voice was delicately mirrored by the orchestra: A sung forte was supported vigorously by the instruments, and then a pianissimo for the entire ensemble would taper off into silence.

The virtuoso singer never rendered his ornaments the same way twice, and the da capo of an aria was enhanced by more brilliant embellishments but never overdone. When each aria concluded, the unusually demonstrative audience responded with shouts and whistles, amazed at what they had just heard. Two separate couples I spoke with said they had heard the same program two days earlier in Berkeley and had come to savor it one more time.

In the Porpora aria Si pietoso il tuo labbro ragiona (Since you speak so sympathetically) Mr. Jaroussky sang the words contenti sognando (happily dreaming) in a phrase rich in artful tender trills and carried in a single extended breath. A breathtaking unaccompanied cadenza ended the aria. For Handel’s Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (Sweet passion tempts me) oboes and bassoon were added. While Mr. Jaroussky sang, the orchestra became one instrument whose only purpose was to support him, reflecting each passionate emotion of the aria. In a long cadenza near the end, the singer took all the time he wanted, the orchestra waiting and then entering with a repeat of the same melody, ending in a lovely pianissimo.

Just before Intermission a Handel love song was followed by a tempestuous aria about a fierce tiger that was being hunted: Sta nell’Ircana (In her stony Caspian lair the fierce tiger stands). After brilliant ornaments sung on the repeat, the aria ended with the hunter--represented by unaccompanied horns--echoing the countertenor’s words.

In Handel’s aria Scherza infida (Mock me, faithless one) the dissonances were achingly lovely, resolving only at the last moment. The solo bassoon played long suspensions and Mr. Jaroussky’s voice almost wept as he sang, in slowly descending notes, “I lie in the arms of death.” The final poignant love song, Porpora’s Nell’ attendere (While I await), ended with the words La speranza porterà (Hope promises). In the middle of the closing long cadenza, a single horn suddenly sounded, echoing the phrase just sung. As if startled, the singer abruptly glanced over his shoulder, and he and horn playfully concluded the aria.

The element of surprise made this performance exciting. Nothing was played or sung the same way twice. There was surprise in the brilliant ornaments, the messa di voce consisting of a gradual crescendo and decrescendo over a sustained note (an essential characteristic of vocal works of this period). The pure intonation and notable grace with which Mr. Jaroussky brought out the conflicting emotions of each aria was terrific.

A brilliantly performed encore echoed the standard that the musicians had set for the afternoon, and the audience--on its feet and applauding at length--showed Philippe Jaroussky and the Venice Baroque Orchestra how much they had enjoyed themselves. A return engagement is a must.