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Recital
HOME RECITAL BACH COMPLETES HOLIDAY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The just closing 2017 year was a calamity for many, but locally in music there were joys galore, and it was fitting Dec. 30 have the balm of two Bach’s violin sonatas in a private Guerneville home recital hosted by the eminent musician Sonia Tubridy. Violinist Richard Heinberg joined Ms. Tubridy in...
Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Saturday, October 18, 2008
Hugo Wolf Quartet
Sebastian Gertler, Violin
Regis Bringolf, Violin
Gertrud Weinmeister, Viola
Florian Berner, Cello
Tickets $25, $23 members, $10 students with ID

The Hugo Wolf Quartet

VIENNESE LIFE, LOVE AND DEATH

by Steve Osborn
Monday, October 20, 2008

Shortly after taking the stage at the Occidental Community Church on Oct. 18, Gertrud Weinmeister, the violist of the Hugo Wolf Quartet, observed that Sonoma County resembles Vienna in its profusion of hillside vineyards. She further noted that all three composers on the Vienna-based ensemble’s program — Haydn, Schubert and Berg — were wine lovers.

Music and wine have a lot in common. Most fundamentally, both transform reality for a finite amount of time: music for as long the song endures; wine for as long as the inebriation lasts. Both are also made from a single core element (sounds or grapes) that the composer or winemaker picks, crushes, blends, bottles and otherwise transforms from raw material into finished product.

The quality and effect of that product depends on the skill of the composer or winemaker. For the ever-cheerful Haydn, his sonic intoxicant induces jollity and frolic. For the tortured Alban Berg, musical drinking leads to the depths of passion, betrayal and adultery. And for Schubert, a mere sip is the portal to another world, one far removed from the suffering of the present.

Back on stage, the music began with a pronounced intake of air, presumably from first violinist Sebastian Gürtler, as the quartet launched into Haydn’s sprightly Opus 33, No. 5. Taking full advantage of the church’s intimate acoustic, the quartet brought forth every individual line, with precisely controlled dynamics and a remarkable rhythmic flexibility. Rather than chaining themselves to a metronome, the group allowed each of Haydn’s long phrases to develop its own internal rhythm and meaning. The result was a fresh and captivating reading of a time-honored classic.

Gürtler invested the second movement, a Largo cantabile, with real drama by using minimal vibrato and allowing the other voices — violist Weinmeister, second violinist Régis Bringolf and cellist Florian Berner — to come through. Judging from the richness of tone, they all have superior instruments, and the sound they produced was almost sculptural in its solidity and strength. The last movement, a set of variations on a simple theme, allowed each instrument to shine in turn, ending with a fiery Presto replete with tricky bowing.

The festive country dances evoked in the Haydn find their counterpart in the elegiac waltzes of Berg’s “Lyric Suite,” which tells the true story of the married composer’s doomed affair with the wife of a wealthy businessman. The tempo markings of the suite’s six movements offer more than enough evidence of the affair’s inexorable progression from joviality (Allegro gioviale), to love (Andante amoroso), to mystery (Allegro mysterioso), to passion (Adagio appassionato), to delirium (Presto delirando), to final desolation (Largo desolato).

To evoke these various emotive states, Berg uses almost every variety of sound available to the string quartet, along with many varieties of his own invention. The academics may speak of Berg’s 12-tone rows and precisely calibrated metronome markings, but the emotional impact of this powerful work is mainly conveyed by the quality of its sound, from shimmering pianissimo tremolos to thunderous chordal sforzandos.

The Hugo Wolf proved masters at keeping up with Berg’s constantly shifting sonic landscape. Their bows were all over their instruments, whether digging in near the bridge or feathering across the fingerboard. The third movement, with its hushed beginning and onrushing pizzicatos, was particularly remarkable. On the down side, some parts of the suite seemed simply too loud. The effect of maximum volume can be dramatic, but it’s difficult to sustain. A little more mezzo forte would have been in order.

In contrast, excessive volume was never an issue in the concluding work, Schubert’s majestic “Death and the Maiden.” From the ringing chords at the beginning to the furious presto at the end, the Hugo Wolf played this masterpiece to perfection. Their dynamics, tempi and interpretation were squarely aligned.

Each movement brought new insight and depth of feeling. The first was a model of sustained energy; the second of delicate poignancy. The heartfelt variations in the latter movement showed off each player’s impeccable intonation and intelligent phrasing. By the end of the movement, the original melody had floated away on a heavenly cloud. In the Scherzo and Trio of the third movement, the players really dug in with their bows, allowing each note to ring out.

But the fourth movement Presto was the real standout. From the onset, all four players launched into a furious dance, led by the stern-faced Gürtler, whose expression was unvarying. Each note was distinct, the runs not a blur of sound but a sequence of sharply etched intervals. The syncopations drove the rhythms, which became increasingly wild and thrilling.

It was a memorable performance, a reminder that Vienna is still the musical capital, its composers and performers still intoxicated with sound.