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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
Music at Oakmont / Thursday, December 10, 2015
Frank Almond, violin; William Wolfram, piano

Violinist Frank Almond

BRAWNEY ARTISTRY IN ALMOND-WOLFRAM MUSIC AT OAKMONT RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scintillating string playing has always been a feature of the Music at Oakmont concerts, but Dec. 10’s recital by violinist Frank Almond and pianist William Wolfram was exceptionally virtuosic and musically convincing.

The cornerstone of the performance came in the second half with a brawny reading of a titular work in the violin repertoire, Beethoven’s dramatic A Major Sonata, Op. 47 (Kreutzer). Playing without score, as he did the entire recital, Mr. Almond managed the fast tempo broken thirds and sixths in the opening Adagio – Presto with aplomb, and surmounted the technical hurdles in the graceful slow movement of trills and lyrical lightness. The piece’s famous first measures before the pianist enters, where there is string movement from the second to third chord (both in thirds), and then thee pianist with broken sixth chords, were deftly played. It’s not easy to do.

In the Andante there was some note blurring in quick passages but the violinist’s playing was always clear, with alternating seconds, at the top of the instrument’s register. Mr. Wolfram had an amazing trill technique here, even and easily swelling from piano to forte. The finale was “off to the races” in tempo, making the most of the composer’s dazzling inventiveness and mastery.

Over 45 minutes, this “Kreutzer” with all the repeats was held beautifully together by the duo and was a potent musical achievement.

In older days violin recitals frequently began with a middle drawer baroque piece, sometimes Tartini’s Devil’s Trill or Didone Abbandonata, or the Vitali Chaconne, or some Geminiani. Mr. Almond performed the Tartini G Minor “Devil’s Trill,” a 14-minute work with a mostly continuo part for the piano. I think the Kreisler cadenza was selected, and the performance was at turns virtuosic and even splashy with pithy small slides and sometimes comely phrasing.

Before intermission two disparate pieces were played, one arguably the greatest single work for the solo violin, and the other a late romantic sonata by an unknown Swedish composer, Amanda Röntgen-Maier. From the late 1880s, the Sonata in B Minor has hints of Rubinstein, Grieg and especially Schumann, but easily stands on its own. Mr. Almond underscored a slow wistfulness in the Andantino – Allegrettoand his use of pizzicato moving into the coda with a delicate soft bow was captivating. Grieg’s music, especially the great C Minor Sonata, seems to influence the finale, and Mr. Wolfram gave its surging passion powerful pianism. The violinist was less persuasive in the last forceful bars that needed a more soaring violin line. In sum, a very good reading of an attractive Sonata that needs more concert exposure.

Mr. Almond then played the justly iconic Bach Chaconne (from the D minor Partita, BWV 1004), and it seemed too easy to compare his performance with Gil Shaham’s March transversal of all the solo Bach Sonatas and Partitas in nearby Weill Hall. Easy because Mr. Shaham was consistently fast with tempos, and Mr. Almond was uniformly fast in phrasing. Perhaps it was simply the artist’s mood on a rainy Thursday and the compressed succinct scales and agogics were certainly convincing in their way. But this great music can profit with taking a little more time before transitions in the variations, and adopting more elasticity in note values.

Mr. Almond was a witty and informative speaker to the 200 in Berger Auditorium, describing each work and charmingly referring to Robert Hayden, Music at Oakmont’s founder and the star of a birthday reception following in the hall after the recital. The artist also spoke of the relationship of his Stradivarius violin, called the “Lipinski,” to the compositions on the program. There is speculation that Carl Lipinski (1790-1861) played all the works in the program (save for the Röntgen-Maier Sonata) with this violin.

Clara Schumann’s Romance from Op. 22 was the one encore, played flawlessly with wide vibrato and luminous tone from both performers.

This was clearly one of the finest violin recitals in the North Bay in many years.

Bay area violinist Bronislaw Rabin contributed to this review.