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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’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, March 11, 2016
Lawrence Brownlee, tenor

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee

STUNNING BROWNLEE RECITAL IN WEILL CAPPED BY HIGH C'S

by Peter Benecke
Friday, March 11, 2016

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee gave a March 11 Weill Hall recital that treated those who were willing to brave the elements to an evening of great artistry, sensitivity and vocal perfection. The musical world has come to expect seamless agility, vocal fireworks and seemingly endless high notes from the bel canto tenor, and with his flawless technique, Mr. Brownlee demonstrated these qualities and more in an evening of intimate lyricism and heartfelt communication.

The program opened with four songs from a well-known collection of 24 early Italian songs and Arias. These are often considered beginner’s pieces, yet here they were a lesson in mastery of style and expression. Mr. Brownlee showed impeccable style and technique with each one. These were followed by two Bellini songs in which Mr. Brownlee demonstrated himself to be a master of legato singing. The second of these, “La Ricordanza,” is an almost mirror image of the famous melody from the opera I Puritani, “Qui la Voce,” beloved as a soprano aria for its haunting beauty.

With pianist John Churchwell, Mr. Brownlee had found a worthy partner. His tour de force performance of the introduction to Rossini’s beloved concert piece” La Danza” could have stood alone, with Mr. Churchwell leaving the keyboard nearly smoking! Mr. Brownlee was equal to the challenge of the opening salvo and matched its brilliance with a vocal presentation that left listeners nearly breathless. The tenor clearly had fun with it and brought the audience to cheers. This was followed by two more of Rossini’s more lyric pieces of depth and expression, “L’esule” and “La Lontananza.” Rossini was a singer himself and his vocal works show a variety of moods and colors, ideally suited to the voice.

The first half finished with two favorite Neapolitan songs by Tosti, “L’ideale” and “Marechiare,” and they were enthusiastically received by an audience that was now well aware that they were hearing a special and unique evening of singing.

After intermission the artist announced that he was going to “break down the fourth wall.” With a few words he transformed the opulent Weill into an intimate space where every person felt that the tenor sang for him or her alone. He started with a set of Irish lyrics arranged by his friend Ben Moore. Mr. Moore is a singer and originally wrote the songs for himself, but after meeting and working with Mr. Brownlee, set them in higher keys to suit a high tenor voice. The resulting extraordinary pieces on texts by James Joyce and William Butler Yeats combine classical style with blues and jazz elements. Mr. Brownlee sang them with exquisite dynamic control.

Keeping the spirit of the broken fourth wall, Mr. Brownlee invited the audience members to sing along in “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Gershwin’s iconic Porgy and Bess, followed by masterful presentation of Sportin’ Life’s aria from that same opera, “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leaving Soon For New York.”

The final offering on the program was a set of spirituals given modern settings by composer Damien Sneed. It was here that Mr. Brownlee opened his heart, sharing with the audience the story of his mother’s favorite song “Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass” and speaking openly as a father of the challenge of his international career that takes him away from home for so much of his young children’s lives. “All Night, All Day (Angels Watchin’ Over Me)” he has nicknamed “Caleb’s Song,” for the five-year old son he so often leaves behind while touring.

Bowing to the enthusiastic applause, Mr. Brownlee returned to the stage for an encore. Without introduction and to the audience’s evident delight, he began the aria “Ah mes amis” from Donizetti’s opera Daughter of the Regiment, famous for its nine high Cs! With astonishing ease, after a full program of demanding, virtuosic singing, Mr. Brownlee conquered them all, holding the final high note so long that the audience was left gasping for air and leaping to its feet as one!