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Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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...
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.