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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...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Music in the Vineyards / Friday, August 8, 2014

UBER VIOLISTS AT MUSIC IN THE VINEYARDS

by Steve Osborn
Friday, August 8, 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.]