Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, October 08, 2017
Nikolay Khozyainov’s Oct. 8 debut at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall was one of those rare moments in a young artist’s career when a performance approaches perfection. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s A-Flat Major Sonata (Op. 110) through a delightful recital ending transcription, the ...
Mendocino Music Festival / Saturday, July 09, 2016
Geoff Nuttall, violin; Stephan Prutsman, piano.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall


by Kayleen Asbo
Saturday, July 09, 2016

In ancient Greece there were two gods of music, representing two different musical principles. Apollo, God of the Sun, was associated with intellectual clarity, and his was a kind of music that focused on order, balance, refinement and mathematical precision. Dionysus (known to the Romans of a later age as Bacchus) the god of Drama and Drinking, was connected to music of searing emotional intensity: ecstatically joyful or tragic; blisteringly raw or comedic. Apollonian music is savored with the mind, which appreciates its formal constructs and subtle nuances. Dionysian music, on the other hand, affects the whole body: tears leak from eyes and feet begin tapping of their own accord in delight.

The best composers are a blend of both Apollo and Dionysus, with head and heart in perfect harmony. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms in part have become the pillars of the pantheon of classical musical because they embody both polarities in polyphonic perfection.

Too often musicians perform Bach as if he were all Apollonian intellect. Perhaps persuaded by the Haussmann portrait of 1742 where Bach looks like a dry, stiff and stern schoolmaster, they interpret his music as if it were only a brilliant academic exercise, playing from the wrists down and neck up. In truth, there has seldom existed a more passionate human being, and Bach was a man who outlived his first wife and buried ten of his twenty children. Grief was an omnipresent companion during his years, but Bach never lost the capacity to love, to laugh and to dance. Exuberant Bach family reunions consisted of singing four part chorales, dancing up a storm and sharing puns and jokes.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall and pianist Stephen Prutsman viscerally conveyed Bach’s sense of humor and vitality at the Mendocino Music Festival’s opening chamber music event July 9 in the big Festival tent in Mendocino. It was an ambitious concert that provided the rare opportunity to hear the entire collection of the Six Sonatas for Clavier and Violin, unduly neglected works that provide an encyclopedia of emotion. In their best moments, the artists captured the soul-searing tenderness of the arioso-like slow movements and brought a vigorous, infectious energy and joie de vivre to the intricacies of the technically demanding fugues.

The B minor sonata offered an intimate invitation to enter into a lament, almost as if the audience were overhearing a soliloquy. Mr. Prutsman’s understated use of the damper pedal (a most appropriate choice in translating the score from harpsichord to a modern instrument) helped establish a long legato line in the poignant descending repeated chords before the first sustained solitary and keening tone emerged from the violin and the instruments spun out the elegant and elegiac melody.

The dramatic shift between this opening dirge and the succeeding movement could not have been more dramatic. Throwing himself bodily into the Allegro Mr. Nuttall literally pounced on the downbeats and continued to dance his way through the buoyant rhythms to follow. At times this Dionysian approach sacrificed precision, control and intonation for physical intensity and comedy.

Following the infectious rendition of the fourth movement, where the duo admirably handled the rapid-fire passagework, it became clear why Mr. Nuttall is called the “The Jon Stewart of the Violin”. The artist wittily addressed the audience from the stage about Bach, offering insights into the succeeding works that were both comedic and insightful and captivated the near capacity crowd. For example, he offered a preview of the climactic section of the A Major sonata, demonstrating the difference between how it is written on the page (as a single chord accompanied with the word arpeggione) and how it is to be translated into performance, describing it as the violin’s “bluegrass moment”. He let it be known that he could not keep from dancing during this movement and invited the audience to jump into the aisles to join him.

It was tempting to take him up on his offer, and even the two pre-teenagers sitting in front of me were able to grasp and appreciate the unbridled exuberance of this performance, bursting into grins, and sitting on the edge of their seats as Mr. Nuttall threw himself with Dionysian abandon into the most difficult passagework.

Performing in a large tent yields many challenges, and finding the right balance between parts without adequate feedback from the stage is one. More disturbing were the interruptions that plagued the emotional epicenter of the program. The performers had prepared the audience to receive the tenderness of the Adagio ma non tanto of the E Major Sonata by deconstructing its parts. A third of the way into what promised to be the highlight of the day a percussive cell phone went off and thirty seconds later sirens from the nearby fire department blared, and towards the end of this exquisite playing they sounded again. Stalwart, the performers continued with unabated concentration, but it was painfully frustrating. I was reminded of T.S Eliot’s lines: Humankind cannot bear too much reality. The stark beauty of the naked spiritual vulnerability of the their oblation could only be perceived dimly through the veil of worldly cacophony. How I longed for the performers to repeat this work as an encore.

The recital’s second half offered many moments of delight: the C Minor sonata blossomed with an elegance and suppleness in the slow movements and the fourth movement ‘s polyphonic writing was treated with a much-appreciated lightness and grace in the piano (a quality I had longed for during much of the program). The fifth sonata’s Largo found the delicate balance between direct emotional expression and intellectual clarity and restraint, and the first movement of the final sonata had the audience tapping their toes once again.

We live in an age that seems almost pathologically afraid of silence. Much more silence was needed during this concert, not just listener silence or a reprieve from the occasional motorcycles rumbling outside the tent, but also more silence within the concert itself, before, during and after each sonata. Mozart said the most important part of the music was the silence, and taking the time to allow each movement to echo before immediately plunging into the next notes allows the audience to truly savor the sonic richness they have experienced. Quite often final notes in this performance were cut short to make a dashing and dramatic visual effects or to hurry to the next movement.

Perhaps the duo was afraid the audience could not tolerate such silence, and Mr. Nuttall quipped after intermission, “Wow, look how many of you stayed! I had a nightmare that this concert would be like the Haydn Farewell Symphony, with only two of us left on stage at the end”. He should not have feared, as the dynamism and engagement of the duo’s approach was palpable, and had immediate appeal to an audience. A woman next to me said as the standing ovation continued, “I was so surprised! I didn’t know that Bach could be so much fun!”

We live in a time where there is a need to create more passionate and informed listeners, and Messrs Nuttall and Prutsman did just that. Can you find more refined, elegant and delicate interpretations of these masterworks? Yes, Frank Peter Zimmerman, for one. However, I don’t know of any other performers who would have engaged, entertained and educated an audience so brilliantly. It was a triumph in that the duo succeeded in converting skeptical listeners to the concept that fugues can be fun, and that for sheer unbridled exuberance, Bach can be better than bluegrass.