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Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, December 13, 2008
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Kymry Esainko, piano soloist. SRS Honor Choir with vocal soloists Jenni Samuelson, Bonnie Brooks, Scott Whitaker, Hugh Davies

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.