GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport.
Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater.
Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility.
Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall.
Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Santa Rosa Symphony pianist Kymry Esainko
A THREE-COURSE FEAST FROM SR SYMPHONY
by David Parsons
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Maestro Bruno Ferrandis, the Santa Rosa Symphony, the symphony’s Honor Choir and four vocal soloists served a hugely rewarding feast of hearty fare for our holiday delight this past weekend. Haydn’s Symphony No. 94, nicknamed “Surprise,” opened the varied program, and its elegant structure and imaginative orchestration set the tone for the whole evening.
At Saturday night’s performance, after a couple ragged entrances, the strings found their bearings in the lyrical introduction to the quick and dance-like first movement, holding off on their heavier vibrato much of the time. For the theme and variations which make up the second, “surprise” movement, the anticipation and the audience giggles which accompanied the famous sudden fortissimo chord gave way to delight with the increasingly complex variations. The third movement minuet is so quick that it feels like a rollicking folk dance, really a Ländler. Yet another “contredanse” flavor infects the energetic last movement, with the country-like mood interrupted only briefly by stormier harmonies toward the return of the main rondo theme and at the beginning of the coda. Altogether, the Haydn symphony was a perfect and ingratiating opening to the evening’s feast.
For our next course, the orchestra was joined by its principal pianist, Kymry Esainko, in Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in D minor. I wondered, when looking at the concert grand piano being rolled on the stage, how the downsized string orchestra would manage to balance with it, but from where we sat, the balance turned out to be excellent. There are those who might opt for a harpsichord to play a Bach concerto, but then the string ensemble would have to be even smaller, and thus there would be greater audibility challenges for listeners in a large hall.
Esainko and Ferrandis carefully adjusted balance to keep the piano’s lines clear when they were in lower registers. In typical Bachian fashion, the vigorous opening and closing movements evolve an immensely complex musical structure out of the tiniest motivic kernels. The haunting keyboard “aria” which forms the second movement cries out for a “sustaining” melody instrument like the violin or organ. Still, Esainko made the piano sing with a judicious use of the sustaining pedal and a sensitive feel for the elaborate ornamentation on the contours of each phrase.
The feast continued after intermission with Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass,” considered by his chief biographer to be “arguably Haydn’s greatest single composition.” Because of a shortage of musicians at the Esterházy court at that time, it was scored for just strings, trumpets and timpani. Haydn accepted later editors’ additions of what they perceived to be missing woodwind parts, and it was this expanded scoring that the symphony played.
In 1798 Haydn was at the height of his fame as Europe’s greatest composer, and he had an annual obligation to write a festive mass for the wife of Hungary’s Prince Esterházy. But Europe was not in a jovial state of mind, with Napoleon winning multiple battles in Austria, and even threatening Vienna itself. Haydn therefore named this a “Mass in Time of Distress.” Leading up to the September celebration when the mass was first heard, Napoleon’s possible invasion had been at least temporarily overturned by Admiral Horatio Nelson’s defeat of the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile. Nelson visited the Esterházys two years later, and may have heard the mass performed again at that time. According to legend, Nelson asked Haydn for the pen with which he had composed the mass, in exchange for a golden watch. Thus the nickname “Lord Nelson Mass.”
The mood of foreboding that hung over Europe shadowed even Haydn’s usually sunny outlook in this, his only mass in a minor key. The trumpets have key roles in almost all the movements, sounding their alarms. The Kyrie is the keynote of this tone of fear in the face of disaster. The Gloria is a relief from these terrors, and its tone of exultant praise reflects Haydn’s simple and clear faith in the God who is above the dangers of the world. Even in the Gloria, however, after its optimistic opening, the music shifts to a cautious E minor at the words “et in terra pax—and on earth peace.” Likewise, the bass solo beautifully sung by Hugh Davies at “qui tollis peccata mundi—that takest away the sins of the world” begins with B-flat major, but does not take long to shift to G minor and D minor at the words “miserere nobis—have mercy on us.”
In the canon that begins the Credo, the altos and basses repeat exactly the music sung by the sopranos and tenors. It is a Bachian sort of device, an ingenious way of providing reinforcement for the statement of belief. The most dramatic and ravishing part of the Credo is the lovely soprano solo “et incarnatus est—and he was made incarnate,” to demonstrate the idea that God took on human form and lived on earth—the center of the Christmas story. Here, soprano Jenni Samuelson’s singing provided an especially poignant moment.
In other masses, the Benedictus is often relatively inconsequential, but in this mass it becomes a grand procession for the heavenly messenger “who comes in the Name of the Lord.” We are back in D minor, and the trumpets again sound their ominous warning, reminiscent of the Kyrie, but finally the specter of war vanishes with the jubilation of D major, in “Osanna in excelsis.”
Soloists Jenni Samuelson, Bonnie Brooks, Scott Whitaker and Hugh Davies had an extended chance to shine in the Agnus Dei, an intimate and personal prayer for mercy. At the soloists’ last notes, the choir’s demeanor brightened, and then, with but one quick beat to take their breath, the altos launched the choir into the vivacious “Dona nobis pacem—grant us peace.” The depths of despair in the Kyrie lead to the confidence of peace at the end of the mass. We may be in times of distress, but there is always hope for the future.
Phebe Craig played the organ continuo for the mass, though she was not noticed in the program. Regrettably, from our seats her small chamber organ was inaudible except for one or two moments when accompanying solos. Perhaps a bigger instrument would better suit the need in such a large hall.
I find it hard to argue with those who feel that the “Lord Nelson Mass” is Haydn’s finest work. Ferrandis, the symphony, the Honor Choir and the soloists are to be saluted for this worthy conclusion to a splendid holiday feast.