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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 ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Marin Symphony / Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Zuill Bailey, cello

Conductor Alasdair Neale

PROPULSIVE BERLIOZ AND CONSUMMATE CONDUCTOR STAR AT MARIN SYMPHONY

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s not an easy task to upstage the virtuoso cellist Zuill Bailey, but Marin Symphony conductor Alasdair Neale did it convincingly in a Sept. 30 concert at the Marin Center Auditorium.

Mr. Bailey didn’t easily relinquish the starring role and played an eloquent and urbane performance in St. Saëns’ First Concerto, Op. 33, from 1872. For Mr. Bailey, a North Coast favorite, it was a surprisingly low temperature performance that had fast tempos and at times a legato that blurred scale passages. In the Allegretto the cellist displayed a deft pianissimo, spicatto bowing and even trills. In the finale both Mr. Neale and Mr. Bailey adopted a restrained approach to this mellifluous music that showcased a long thematic line that was everywhere reminiscent of the composer’s Introduction and Rondo for Violin and Orchestra, written nine years before the Concerto.

Timing in the short first half generated a crowd-pleasing encore, and not for this soloist was the usual movement from a Bach unaccompanied Suite. It was the captivating five-minute Intermezzo entr’acte from Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Here Mr. Bailey broadened his vibrato and played the lovely melody seamlessly merging with the Marin musicians and especially harpist Don Leviton. At the end the motionless Mr. Neale held the audience in a fermata, letting the magical silence play out for 15 seconds.

Following intermission the Symphony unleashed a demonic performance of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, guided by the conductor’s conception of a sonic extravaganza. This hall has a direct sound with little reverberation, seemingly favoring in this work the lower frequencies of six basses and eight cellos. All through the five-movement symphony that lasted just short of an hour the conductor relished moderate tempos, never rushing in voice leadings to the big climaxes. And there were many big climaxes.

In the lovely waltzes of the second movement Mr. Neale eschewed big ritards and elastic rhythms, emphasizing instead strict rhythms, section balances and tonal richness. Clarinetist Arthur Austin and flutist Monica Daniel-Barker played fetching duos.

For me the instrumental highlight of the evening was the delicate and haunting English horn solos that began the “Scene in the Fields” movement. Laura Reynolds was the performer in music that Wagner clearly knew when he composed the equally haunting Prelude to Act III of “Tristan und Isolde.” The wind choir and violas played wonderfully. Mr. Neale’s control and concentration was complete and only sporadically did he look at the score. The string pizzicato playing in the March to the Scaffold movement was telling, as was the sonority of chimes, tuba (two of them, and two harps!) trombones and bassoon in the Dies Irae theme of the Witches Sabbath conclusion. Mr. Neale gave each repeat a slightly different character that lent novel interest to this propulsive and raucous movement. A standing ovation followed the final tumultuous chords, and it was surely a tribute to both orchestra’s playing and the conductor’s bold conception and consummate control of Berlioz’ sprawling composition.

The concert opened with Bernstein’s Overture to the operetta “Candide,” fast and with trumpets blaring. With the stage packed with performers, many more than were needed in the St. Saëns Concerto, the performance of this popular concert opener was swift, muddy in texture and actually too loud.