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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’...
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 REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 07, 2016
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Gabriela Martinez, piano

Pianist Gabriela Martinez

A SOUND TO BEHOLD

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 07, 2016

Concert titles are rarely specific, but the one for the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, “Jazzy Impressions,” is as literal as they get. The first half consisted of two American pieces influenced by jazz, and the second of two French works in the impressionist style.

Pairing two similar pieces in a concert is risky, because one inevitably suffers in comparison with the other. In this case, Gershwin’s piano concerto easily trumped Bernstein’s dance music from “On the Town,” and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” edged out Debussy’s “Ibéria.”

The main reason for Gershwin’s success is the piano part, which was brilliantly played by the Venezuelan Gabriela Martinez. Eschewing flash and glitz, she sat upright at the piano, playing with confidence and poise rather than excessive drama. Her arms were as elegant as a ballerina’s, and she consistently raised one or both in the air at the end of phrases and difficult passages, sometimes even bringing them behind her back.

Martinez’s articulations were precise, with nary a missed note, and her projection was admirable. No amount of projection, however, could overcome the orchestra, which often played too loudly, particularly in the first movement. Something is not right when the pianist is playing all out but can’t be heard above her accompaniment.

Gershwin’s music in the concerto is at times inspired, but it often drifts aimlessly, as in the second movement, where the many orchestral solos leave the pianist sitting mute for dozens of measures at a time. The high point, for both Gershwin and the players, comes in the third movement, with its fiery beginning and meaty lines. Martinez finally had something to sink her teeth into, and she performed flawlessly. Her accented syncopations were superb, and she gave the movement a dramatic arch that was sustained until the last measure.

The opening Bernstein dances were well played, with standout solos by Doug Morton (trumpet), Roy Zajac (clarinet) and Mark Wardlaw (alto sax). Originally intended for a Broadway pit orchestra, the music suffers from the transition to a concert hall. It’s incongruous to see a tuxedoed percussionist playing off a score while seated at a jazz/rock drum set in the middle of the orchestra. Just because it sounds good on Broadway doesn’t mean it’s ready for Carnegie Hall.

The Debussy and Ravel pieces in the second half were not only cast from the same impressionist mold, they also tackled the same subject: Spain. The pairing led to a certain amount of department of redundancy department experience, with a faintly academic tinge. Nonetheless, there was enough difference to sustain interest.

Debussy’s “Iberia” might be more properly titled “Debusseria,” for all the resemblance it bears to Spain. Debussy spent only one afternoon of his life in Spain--and that at a bullfight--so the piece is more his imagination of what Spain sounds like than the actually reality of Spain.

Regardless of the music’s program, the result is pure Debussy, with a constant subsurface tension that spills over at dramatic moments. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis used liquescent gestures to coax forth the dreamy sound, creating an atmosphere of mystery. Most haunting were the bells in the “Spanish night” movement. The tension kept building through the next, “Spanish festival,” until a triumphant arrival in the final bars. The playing was impeccable.

Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” was truer to Spain and more daring in its structures. The descending four-note half-scales at the beginning of the opening movement (Prelude to the night) set the stage for extended flights of musical fancy. As in Debussy, the atmosphere is always expectant, always about to explode. Ferrandis heightened this tension with carefully controlled dynamics, by turns hushing the orchestra and letting it loose.

The dances of the middle movements (Malagueña and Habanera) were played with a strong feeling for the syncopations and the rhythmic sway. The fireworks came in the last movement, thanks to Ravel’s magnificent orchestration and fine playing from every corner of the orchestra. Each layer of notes was audible in Weill Hall’s wonderful acoustics, and the tremendous crescendo at the end was a sound to behold.