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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.