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Recital
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
Symphony
BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 09, 2020
The Sunday, Feb. 9, performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st century music firmly bound to the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire”—based on a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the ...
Symphony
FRENCH ORCHESTRAL MUSIC A FIRST FOR THE SO CO PHILHARMONIC
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 02, 2020
Over many years the Sonoma County Philharmonic has played little French music, but perhaps this oversight was corrected Feb. 2 in a splendid all-Gallic program Feb. 1 and 2 in the Jackson Theater. Classical Sonoma reviewed the Sunday afternoon concert. In his eighth conducting season with the So C...
Symphony
POLISH MUSICAL WORLDS GLOW BRIGHT IN NFM WROCLAW WEILL PERFORMANCE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, February 01, 2020
The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, gave a concert of enormous energy and emotional impact on Feb.1 to a small audience in Weill Hall. This orchestra has been a major cultural force in Poland since 1949, playing under many renowned conductors and has been committed to pr...
Opera
EXTRAVAGANT ARIAS IN NEXT GENERATION TENORS GALA VALLEJO CONCERT
by Mark Kratz
Saturday, February 01, 2020
“Beautiful, strange, and unnatural…” said orchestra conductor Thomas Conlin when speaking of the tenor voice. One of the coveted voice types of the opera world, the tenor voice is known for it’s piercing tones and soaring, unnatural high notes. The iconic image of the Pagliacci clown (in the famed...
STRING QUINTETS, RARE AND FAMILIAR, IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, January 26, 2020
One hundred attendees in Schroeder Hall were treated Jan. 26 to a pair of stirring two-cello string quintets: Schubert’s much beloved masterpiece Quintet in C (D. 956), and Catoire’s Quintet in C minor (Op. 16), the latter mostly a forgotten work written in 1909. The performers were violinist Victo...
Chamber
MOSTLY MOZART WITH A LITTLE BEETHOVEN AND SOR IN NAPA
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 26, 2020
Sharing the stage with a local diva is a tough task for even seasoned musicians, but Napa College faculty soprano Christina Howell stole the show Jan. 26 when the Napa Valley Music Associates presented an eclectic program of mostly Mozart music. Somehow compositions of Sor and Beethoven joined the m...
Chamber
CHALLENGING WORKS IN GOULD TRIO'S MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 26, 2020
The Gould Piano Trio, founded 28 years ago by violinist Lucy Gould, has been one of the UK’s most prestigious ensembles. Its January 26 performance in Mill Valley Chamber Music Society’s series demonstrated how richly they deserve that reputation. The concert, held at the Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Chu...
Chamber
LOCAL MUSICIANS SHINE IN MTAC BENEFIT CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 25, 2020
After a fire-related postponement of four months, the Sonoma County Chapter of the Music Teachers Association of California Jan. 25 gave their annual scholarship benefit in a charming Sebastopol home. Showcasing local musicians in an intimate setting with two pianos, the first half highlights inclu...
Symphony
MOZART MASTERWORK HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 25, 2020
Excitement was palpable in the Marin Civic Center Auditorium Jan. 25 as the Marin Symphony in splendid full force took the stage for a richly textured Masterworks II program. Prevented from giving its first Masterworks offering by the wildfire-caused blackouts last October, the orchestra returned wi...
OTHER REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Sunday, July 10, 2016
Festival Orchestra, Alan Pollack, conductor. Stephan Prutsman, piano.

Pianist Stephan Prutsman

ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL'S BIG TENT

by Kayleen Asbo
Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Mendocino Music Festival is highlighting Beethoven this summer, and July 10’s program in the tent could have appropriately borrowed the subtitle from Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography of the composer, Anguish and Triumph.

The Festival’s second classical concert paired two Beethoven works with Tchaikovsky’s brooding Fifth Symphony in E Minor, Op. 64. It was an apt pairing, showing both sides of the two mercurial composers, each of whom were both plagued by acute despair, struggled through enormous life challenges, and used music autobiographically to wrestle with their demons and chart a course towards renewed hope and confidence.

The program had a rousing start with the jubilant finale of Beethoven’s A Major (Seventh) Symphony, Op.92. Written at the apotheosis of his fame and fortune, this symphony was during Beethoven’s lifetime one of the most celebrated and cherished of his compositions, with movements frequently repeated in performance, excerpted to stand alone, and even inserted into other symphonies. The brisk tempo and passionate, climactic crescendo (supported ably by the stirring tympani) set the tone for the concert: this would be an evening of bold gestures and dramatic contrasts.

Pianist Stephen Prutsman then performed the Beethoven Third Concerto, Op. 37, to exuberant applause. Clearly well beloved by the Festival audience, his affable smile showed him to be confident and at ease in approaching this pivotal work. Written in Beethoven’s “fate” key of c minor (the same key of his iconic Fifth Symphony), the dark and ominous opening was crisply articulated by the strings before the theme was boldly proclaimed in brass. Mr. Prutsman’s initial pianistic entrance stressed the heroic aspect of the composer’s musical personality before giving way to gossamer trills and delicate arpeggios. The alternating “velvet and steel” approach was particularly effective in the developmental section as a rising wind began to whip around the performance tent, adding outside drama. If technically there were some moments of stumbling in the challenging cadenza, there were also moments of great beauty, as when Mr. Prutsman lavished deep tenderness on the gorgeous second theme.

Though orchestra and soloist needed more communion and perhaps eye contact in order to be in sync with one another at the end of the pianistic runs, the conclusion of the cadenza brought them together. Beginning sotto voce they rose in urgent unison to deliver a stirring and effective climax.

As in the previous day’s concert of Bach, the most sublime moment of the versatile Mr. Prutsman’s performance was damaged by noise beyond his control. The opening of the pensive Largo was a soulful model of exquisite gentleness. Stretching the outer reaches of the score’s slow tempo and pianissimo markings, Mr. Prutsman poured his soul into the opening melodies. Tragically, the coughing, rustling and talking of the audience, combined with the mounting stirring of the wind rattling the tent, meant that some of the most delicate and inward moments that followed were simply inaudible. What was clear was the ethereal and shimmering Arpeggios of the middle section as a floating melody was passed lovingly back and forth between flutist Mindy Rosenfeld and bassoonist Carolyn Lockhart with grace and loveliness. The movement was brought to a serene close with almost hymn-like solemnity.

The playing in the concluding good-natured Rondo offered a peasant-like contrast to the tender fragility of the second movement. Mr. Prutsman showed the giocoso side of his pianistic personality with athletic energy, good humor and almost comedic dynamic contrasts. The finest ensemble playing of the Concerto occurred in the virtuosic finale, showing how capable Mr. Prutsman can be with sparkling passagework as the driving momentum of the coda brought the delighted audience cheering to their feet.

After intermission the Festival Orchestra took on the challenge of Tchaikovsky’s mighty Fifth. This piece was written in 1888 during a period of mid-life despair, and could be titled “Though the Dark Woods”. The repeated use of a “fate” motif is one of Tchaikovsky’s links with Beethoven. The persistent “march of doom” is re-iterated over and over, swelling and transforming to a harrowing and brilliant fanfare of brass and tympani before returning once again to darkness and obscurity. The orchestra achieved a beautiful tonal balance throughout, at times haunting, at other times blazing with power and passion. Once again bassoonist Ms. Lockhart stood out for her expressive playing.

The second movement begins with one of the most poignant horn soloes in all of the orchestral literature. The frequent swelling crescendos and unresolved harmonic sequences, a hallmark of the composer, were awash in swooning Romanticism.

The third movement (Scherzo, Pizzicato Ostinato) requires lightening orchestral quickness and exact precision in instrumental sections. Beginning as a graceful waltz, the scurrying passagework is played pianissimo in the strings and had echoes that are reminiscent of the lyric sweep that characterizes the composer’s Ballet “Sleeping Beauty” from 1890.

The finale transforms the “fate” motif almost violently into a major key. Here conductor Allan Pollack drew a shimmering sonority from the orchestra, building an accelerated momentum with playing that had intense energy and commitment. Rapid tempo changes were exact and the Symphony ended in a blaze of glory.

It has been twenty years since I last heard the Festival Orchestra, and it’s playing now is far more professional. Mr. Pollack was visibly pleased with the Festival Orchestra performance, beaming at the players between movements, and the ecstatic “bravos” from the audience were boisterous amidst the second standing ovation of the night.