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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 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
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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