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Choral and Vocal
SOMBER GERMAN POETRY IN SONG AT ROSCHMANN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Two weeks does make a hefty difference. Feb. 3 saw the diva Renée Fleming beguile a full Weill Hall house in a mix of Brahms, Broadway show songs and Dvorak chestnuts. It was a gala event with couture gowns and colorful extra-musical communication between singer and her rapt audience. Dorothea Rösc...
Chamber
NOVEL AND FAMILIAR WORKS FROM THE TILDEN TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 11, 2018
North Coast chamber music fans have the luxury of two fine resident piano trios, with the frequently performing Trio Navarro at Sonoma State, and the Tilden Trio at San Rafael’s Dominican University. The Tilden plays less often, but their Feb. 11 performance brought several hundred to Angelico Hall ...
Symphony
A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for t...
Recital
HAUNTING RACHMANINOFF WORKS IN HU'S MAO RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 08, 2018
Ching-Yun Hu made a return Music at Oakmont appearance Feb. 8 in Berger Auditorium, reprising a recital she made in the same hall four years ago. Many of the recital’s trappings were the same, but the music Ms. Hu chose to play was decidedly different. All afternoon the pianist was in an aggressiv...
Chamber
A COMPLETE ARTISTIC PACKAGE IN FLEMING'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Vaida Falconbridge and Mary Beard
Saturday, February 03, 2018
The diva Renée Fleming strode on the Weill Hall stage Feb. 2 in her first couture gown of the evening, a gray and swirling cream strapless sheath with flamboyant coordinating stole. For this concert, Ms. Fleming stayed to somewhat lighter fare, foregoing heavier dramatic and coloratura arias for a v...
Recital
ZNAIDER-KULEK DUO CHARMS AND CHALLANGES WEILL AUDIENCE FEB. 2
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 02, 2018
Weill hall has mounted several exceptional piano recitals, with Garrick Ohlsson’s titanic Liszt concert, and of course Lang Lang’s two insouciant but also compelling performances topping the list since 2013. But arguably the virtuoso violinists have on balance been more impressive, and thoughts g...
Chamber
VIVID GERMAN ROMANTICISM IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Though not new to Sonoma County, the Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) concerts are relatively recent in the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall. So the first of three spring concerts Jan. 27 provided a picture of what’s in the repertoire leading up to their Festival this summer at Sonoma’s Ha...
Symphony
MONUMENTAL NIELSEN SYMPHONY CAPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT AT SR HS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Turning again away from conventional repertoire, the Sonoma County Philharmonic programmed Jan. 27 three works in what were local debut performances in Santa Rosa High School’s Performing Arts Center. Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, Op. 29, called “Inextinguishable,” closed the program with an extravaga...
Chamber
ECLECTIC ANDERSON & ROE TRANSCRIPTIONS CAPTIVATE WEILL HALL AUDIENCE
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, January 21, 2018
From the first moment when Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe walked Jan. 21 on the Weill Hall stage and spoke to the audience about their two-piano program, it was clear that an afternoon of drama, humor, virtuosity, warmth, transcendence and excitement was in store. This dynamic and mesmerizing ...
Chamber
BALCOM TRIO HIGHLIGHTS DELPHI'S RAC CONCERT IN OCCIDENTAL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, January 20, 2018
The Redwood Arts Council audience first met the Delphi Trio (Jeffrey LaDeur, (piano), Liana Berube (violin), and cellist Michelle Kwon) in 2013, and subsequent concerts in the same Occidental hall have become crowd favorites. The January 20th program before a capacity audience seemed to have enthus...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Music in the Vineyards / Friday, August 08, 2014

UBER VIOLISTS AT MUSIC IN THE VINEYARDS

by Steve Osborn
Friday, August 08, 2014

Full disclosure. I'm an amateur--very amateur--violist, so Friday's Music in the Vineyards concert in Napa Valley was of particular interest to me. The program featured two sextets with prominent viola parts; a trio for viola, flute and piano; and the pièce de résistance: a quartet for four violas. All of these were preceded by witty and informative introductions by the festival's co-artistic director Michael Adams, who happens to be a violist.

Adams somehow managed to avoid any viola jokes in his introductions, but not so here. What is the sound of four violas playing in unison? A cluster chord.

Such might be the fate of four ordinary violists undertaking York Bowen's Fantasy Quartet for four violas, written in 1907. In the hands of Adams and three other violists, however, the results went far beyond perfect unison. The ensemble produced a rich and varied sound with an astonishing range, even though all four musicians were playing the same type of instrument.

Unlike violins, violas come in different lengths and widths, so they naturally sound different from each other. Add in four distinct musical personalities and you have an ensemble with the texture and variety of a Persian carpet. Everyone played well, but first violist Masumi Per Rostad was exceptional. His sound was velvety, and his motions were as graceful as a swan's.

The only thing lacking was a composer befitting the ensemble. It's easy to understand how the once-prominent Bowen has faded into obscurity. His music, while competent, soon descends into a morass of romantic excess. It would be great for the movies, but it doesn't hold up in a concert hall, which is too bad for an ensemble as good as this one. Maybe the infinitesimal four-viola repertoire has something better to offer.

Before the viola quartet, Rostad joined flutist Adam Kuenzel and pianist Wei-Yi Yang for an engaging performance of Maurice Duruflé's "Prelude, Recitative and Variations" (1928), a resolutely Impressionist work written in Paris during the Jazz Age, when Impressionism was but a memory. Despite his backward-looking style, Duruflé was a masterful composer, nowhere more so than in this beguiling trio.

Rostad dominated the opening with his gorgeous sound and commanding stage presence. The others soon proved his equal, and the three interacted seamlessly to bring forth Duruflé's languid melodies and emotive variations. All three displayed a light touch and a genuine feeling for Duruflé's intricate score.

The trio was in strong contrast to the opener that preceded it: Prokofiev's "Overture on Hebrew Themes" (1919), a commissioned work that sounds almost nothing like Prokofiev. The story goes that a Russian ensemble comprised of string quartet, clarinet and piano asked Prokofiev to write a melodic piece based on Hebrew tunes and even gave him a book of such tunes for inspiration.

The result--which Prokofiev disdained--is a medley of Klezmer-sounding ditties with sophisticated instrumentation. The piece gets more boisterous as it goes along, which in this case resulted in some overly loud passages that taxed the sonic limits of the relatively small performance space at Silverado Vineyards. Cellist Tanya Tomkins pierced the din with an outstanding solo that featured an intense and tight vibrato.

A much better sextet concluded the program, this one by Dvorak (1878). Written for two violins, two violas and two cellos, the sextet was published during Dvorak's meteoric rise to fame, and it features unbounded energy and confident writing throughout. At times, it sounds more like a string trio than a sextet. The first violinist, violist and cellist get all the prominent lines, supported by their fellow instrumentalists. There are also occasional duets for each type of instrument.

This structure proved ideal for highlighting the first chairs: violinist Arnaud Sussman, violist Roberto Díaz and especially cellist Brandon Vamos, who embodied the sextet's musical drive with sweeping gestures and intense facial expressions. His tone was beautiful, and his rhythmic sense was unfailingly precise.

The performance was magnificent. The dense texture of the opening movement can often sound muddy, but here each part was distinct and well coordinated, especially the lovely viola duet near the end. In the subsequent Dumka dance, the players displayed exceptional rhythmic flexibility, transporting listeners back to village dances in 19th-century Bohemia. So too with the ensuing Furiant, taken at top speed.

The players saved the best for last. The concluding movement proceeded from a stately opening in the violas and cellos to an increasingly complex set of variations that pulled deeper and deeper meanings out of the central theme. The last of these was an unbridled romp led by first violinist Sussman, who somehow marshaled everyone past the finish line in record time.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]