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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
Napa Valley Music Associates / Sunday, January 11, 2015
Jassen Todorov, violin; Anna Combs Johnson, soprano; Kenn Gartner and Adrian Borcea, piano

Violinist Jassen Todorov

MOZART IN THE MIX

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 11, 2015

Napa Valley Music Associates 20th annual Mozart concert Jan. 11 was a mostly Mozart event at the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, but five mostly romantic composers happily joined the musical mix.

Jassen Todorov was the featured violinist in two Sonatas, the F Major (K. 377) and the B Flat (K. 378), partnered with pianist Adrian Borcea. The acoustics of the winery party room were dead and the duo adopted a muscular approach to the overflowing energy of the K. 377 Allegro, the piano at times covering the violin’s sound. The best playing came in the D Minor Variations movement (Andante) where the violinist’s intonation settled down and the music moved from gloomy resignation to lyricism, with a lovely lightweight ending.

The finale was inspired and seemed to quietly vanish into the distance at the end. Throughout the concert the sub professional piano limited artistic playing from Mr. Borcea and subsequently Kenn Gartner, but on balance the Mozart was an adroit if not a telling performance.

Not hindered by the accompanying instrument was soprano Anna Combs Johnson, singing four works by Verdi and Rachmaninoff. From the opera Othello she sang a deliberate and shapely “Ave Maria,” followed by the sad “Salce, salce” (Desdemona’s “Willow’s Song”) with Mr. Gartner support and beguiling postlude. Her voice is even and strong throughout all registers, carrying well with judicious and intense high notes in Rachmaninoff’s “It Is Nice Here.” The popular “Vocalise” (from a group of Op. 34 songs) is performed without words and with one vowel of the singer’s choosing. Here the piano and vocal lines intertwined to fine effect, the music producing a serene blessing on the 75 listeners.

Closing the first half were four disparate piano nocturnes, each well known but each less than refined due to Mr. Gartner’s struggle with the piano. In Chopin’s E Flat Nocturne of Op. 9 he never found a stable tempo and Liszt’s Liebesträume suffered from memory lapses and lack of harmonic sustain. The concluding Scriabin Nocturne for the Left Hand (Op.9) and Respighi’s mellow Notturno were better, the latter a signature piece for the pianist and played with a soothing right-hand staccato and deft phrasing.

In Mozart’s B Flat sonata Mr. Todorov found a lighter bow and relaxed virtuosity that was not always in evidence earlier. He focused on the beguiling three-part melody of the Andantino, reminiscent of the church song “Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of All Nature,” and played with a wider vibrato and control of pianissimo. Mr. Borcea had plenty to do with the many right-hand scale passages in the Allegro, attempting to get an even legato from the instrument that seldom provided it.

Two lovely Mozart works closed the concert, “Porgi Amor” from the opera “The Marriage of Figaro,” and a reduction for piano and soprano of the wonderful “Alleluja” from Exultate Jubilate, K. 165. In the prayerful “Figaro” aria Ms. Combs was never strident and allowed the long phrases to unfold naturally. She has a penchant for this vocal drama where (in the opera) Countess Rosina laments fate and love. Quite the opposite was the lofty tessitura of Mozart’s florid three-minute Alleluja, sung with charm and joy.

A standing ovation ensued, a harbinger of the anticipated NV Music Associates “Spring Into Strings”
Concert March 22 in the same hall.