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Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
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...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
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...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
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...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
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...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
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 ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
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...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
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...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
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 ...
Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
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...
Recital
PIANISTIC COMMAND IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
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 ...
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.