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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
Symphony
PEACE AND LOVE FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 04, 2018
Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 4 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” Symphony CEO Alan Silow took a moment to acknowledge the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and to observe that music offers a more peaceful and loving view of the world. Mr. ...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Sonoma State University Department of Music / Sunday, August 24, 2014
Brass ensemble. Brian Wilson, conductor. James David Christie and Julian Wachner, organ; Tony Collins, trombone; Doug Morton, trumpet; Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano; Roy Zajac, clarinet; Marilyn Thompson, piano

Soprano Ruth Ann Swenson

VOCAL PYROTECHNICS LIGHT UP SCHROEDER HALL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, August 24, 2014

What could end a wildly successful 10-concert inaugural weekend in SSU’s new Schroeder Hall? A resounding concert of manifold brass, organ and voice that turned out by a wide margin to be the overall audience favorite.

The long Sunday evening event put on display every piece of Schroeder’s vaunted acoustics. Led by organists James David Christie and Julian Wachner, 11 works--from Vivaldi to a new-age organ improvisation and a world premiere--showcased the elegant small hall.

Widely anticipated was Schubert’s “The Shepherd on the Rock,” arguably his last work and long a favorite for sopranos. Roy Zajac’s exalted and melodic clarinet playing and Marilyn Thompson’s suave pianism were upstaged by a dramatic performance of the three sections by diva Ruth Ann Swenson. The middle section is always slow and heartfelt, but this performance was beyond my previous hearings, the tone quality going throughout from full brilliance to a velvety smooth, plaintive sound that was continually beguiling. And then the classic structure burst into warm sunshine in the last contrasted section. Ms. Swenson sang with agility and joy, playing with the articulation when she felt capricious. Her stunning performance drove the packed audience to its feet in a roaring ovation.

Brian Wilson’s premiered work, “Stood the Seraphim,” opened the concert in a four-minute triumphal fanfare for brass ensemble and organ. The composer conducted with command and sweep, emphasizing the march-like aspects of the work. Later he directed three canzons of Gabrieli that were a feast of antiphonal sound, with the brass choirs at opposite ends of the hall. In the "Canzon for Double Echo" (also conducted by Mr. Wilson), the extended reverberation time gave the music a kind of glorious syncopation.

A special treat was Mr. Christie’s performance of Vivaldi’s D Major Concerto, RV 93. The nature of the polyphonic choral dialog between the two manual divisions was registered well, with a tasteful Baroque touch. The Concerto displayed precise sounds of the two reed stops used in combination with the full organ.

Mr. Wachner played his own “Blue and Green” and “Fanfare Improvisation,” which were both perfectly presented with the registrations he chose and with a meandering church-music flair. He had company in the organ loft when Ms. Swenson and flutist Kathleen Lane Reynolds performed the “Domine Deus” from Vivaldi’s Gloria, and a Handel Sonata for Trombone, with Tony Collins playing the difficult solo part. The introductory phrases in the Vivaldi for the flute were especially enchanting, leading to a congenial and somewhat vocal blend with the organ.

Handel's resplendent “Volate Amon” from the opera seria Ariodante (HWV 23) closed the concert, with Ms. Swenson perched next to Mr. Christie’s organ keyboard and providing the final pyrotechnical salute to the venue. The performance was a tour de force of brilliant vocal virtuosity. Ms. Swenson’s potent and florid dramatic soprano voice wove in and out of the organ line with easy sensitivity and palpable gaiety.

It was an irresistible duo, and both artists were recalled several times, affectionately embracing and enjoying ecstatic applause and louds “bravas” and “bravos.”

James Harrod and Mary Beard contributed to the review