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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
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.