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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
Sonoma State University Symphony Orchestra / Friday, December 11, 2015
Alexander Kahn, conductor. Marilyn Thompson, piano

Alexander Kahn and Marilyn Thompson Dec. 11

THE LITTLE ORCHESTRA THAT COULD

by Terry McNeill
Friday, December 11, 2015

Hearing a symphony’s inaugural concert is a special event, and the Sonoma State Symphony Orchestra Dec. 11 launched what should be a prosperous musical life with a Weill Hall concert. The University Music Department has had permanent chamber, band and jazz ensembles, but never a flesh-in-the-blood orchestra. Now they do.
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On paper Composer John Corigliano’s "Voyage" seemed a unique opening, but the eight-minute version for strings passed without much notice or interest. It’s reminiscent of Hovhaness and conductor Alexander Kahn led effectively with the music never rising about a mezzo piano. Eschewing the excitement of a lively season overture, it was an odd choice for a gala event.

Mozart’s D Minor Concerto, K. 466, was another matter, and pianist Marilyn Thompson joined the mix in a scrappy but ultimately satisfying reading of the work from 1785. Listeners wanting pitch-perfect playing with sharp attacks, cutoffs and integrated instrumental entrances would not have found it here, but the sonic balances were good and after the initially unsteady Allegro chords the masterful Mozart drama unfolded well.

Playing from score Ms. Thompson adopted an understated approach to the solo part, preferring elegance to high drama, and here and in the concluding movement played the cadenzas by Adolph Baller. Many (Alkan, Brahms, Beethoven, Busoni) have written cadenzas for the 20th Concerto, and I found Baller’s to be idiomatic and in places provocative, with sharp and unexpected modulations. The Romanze was performed with only limited use of rubato, and Ms. Thompson’s refined playing in the finale was her best of the evening. Marie Vizcaino was a splendid oboist, contrasting with a sporadically overly loud timpanist.

Following the shortest Weill Hall intermission in memory the concert concluded with Beethoven’s First Symphony, the Haydnesque one in C Major (Op. 21) from 1800. The opening “question and answer” pair of chords for winds, horns and plucked strings immediately caught my attention, with cadences that then emerged fully formed in focused playing of the small ensemble of 25. Mr. Kahn drew a good performance throughout, especially in the Menuetto: Allegro where there was welcome section clarity. At times in rapid upward passages the high string notes were blurred, something that will surely diminish with more performances.

Applause at the end was loud and often boisterous, as colleagues of the student musicians yelled for their favorites, and the conductor was returned three times to the stage.

Prior to the Corigliano Mr. Kahn, recently appointed to the SSU faculty, addressed the audience of 300 at length regarding the gestation of the Orchestra and opportunity to join a music department of increasing importance with the Green Center’s halls as a resplendent venue. At a post-concert reception the conductor told of plans for a May, 2016 concert, and the expectation of subsequently four concerts per season. That is a pleasurable prospect for North Bay music lovers.