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Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
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 REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, October 15, 2016
Philharmonic Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan, conductor. Robert Levin, piano

Robert Levin (left) and Nicholas McGegan in Weill Hall Oct. 15

BAROQUE NO MORE IN STIRRING BEETOVEN CONCERT IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 15, 2016

Seasoned listeners for Beethoven’s symphonies and concertos know that interpretations can follow contemporary fashion, from the heroic and sonorous grand manner readings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the architectural approach after WW II, and even conductor Roger Norrington’s recent sleek and fast renderings.

In Weill Hall on Oct. 15, conductor Nicholas McGegan fashioned persuasive readings of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony and third Piano Concerto with his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, an ensemble sharply reduced in size (30 musicians) from convention, and with soloist Robert Levin using an 1820-era fortepiano rather than the hall’s usual concert grand.

The Op. 37 C Minor Concerto occupied the entire first half and Mr. Levin’s performance captured the energy inherent in the composition that, unlike the composer’s later two piano concertos, never quite breaks out. Following the long orchestral introduction with fine clarinet (Bryan Conger) and flute (Janet See) playing, the piano’s reduced sound sparkled in fast runs but sporadically was lost in the sonic fabric. In comments to the audience Mr. Levin said he would discard Beethoven’s much-loved first-movement cadenza and would improvise one, as well as similar but shorter cadenzas in the second and third movements.

This he did artistically and as well he played through tuttis, something never seen (or heard, as the piano’s sound here was almost mute) in Weill. A soloist playing inside the orchestra fabric (Golden Age pianists like Hofmann and Busoni did this in movement-ending tuttis) is simply not done now, but with the fortepiano’s reduced resonance it made little difference. Mr. Levin played without pedal in the exposition and used little thereafter, highlighting left-hand sforzandos and arpeggiating chords that were not so indicated in the score but were deliciously effective. Mr. McGegan set a judicious tempo throughout.

Unexpected pianistic improvisations with lots of pedal continued in the entrancing Largo, only to be interrupted by a stuck key in the piano action, and while Mr. Levin provided witty remarks the Orchestra’s on-site technician fixed the mechanism and the movement started over. Featured here were snazzy rhythms and fast descending runs on top of the keys where the composer indicates an entire theme while depressing the pedal, and a distantly related key of E Major. Exquisite.

In the concluding Rondo there were more savory surprises with sharply etched dissonant seconds and new turns and agogics. Often the conductor looked at length over his shoulder at Mr. Levin, waiting for the extemporizing to end and to cue the orchestra to enter. It was a visual and sonic treat, and playing loyal in every way to Beethoven’s intentions. The last cadenza was gay and even coquettish, and again Mr. Conger’s clarinet solos were superb.

Following intermission the F Major “Pastoral” Symphony was played, Beethoven’s only symphony with a set literary program. However bucolic, Mr. McGegan’s tempos were hardly pastoral and he charged quickly ahead with little attention to ritards or spaces between long phrases. But make no mistake, the conductor was a master of small details in this extraordinary music and drew from the Orchestra playing of distinct articulation and luminous sound. The winds were captivating, especially oboist Marc Schachman and bassoonist Andrew Schwartz. Less impressive were wrong notes from the valveless horns, and often in runs they were unable to match tempo.

In the Andante, Mr. McGegan adroitly brought out the bird call flourishes that for me were mixtures of mockingbirds and thrushes, and the trading of wind phrases (Lars Johannesson’s piccolo, Mindy Rosenfeld’s flute, Mr. Conger’s clarinet) were always exemplary. In the Allegro third and fourth movements Mr. McGegan summoned dramatic contrasts and moved convincingly between agitated and slightly raw dances (“Merry Gathering”) to a musical thunderstorm of palpable ferocity. Weill’s orchestra clarity was in evidence, as was Kent Reed's timpani playing.

The final Allegretto was transitional and transparent with the dignified main theme played resplendently by the violins over a pizzicato line in bass and cello. It sounded strangely “modern,” certainly a tribute to the composer’s amazing skill at variation and creativity, and Mr. McGegan’s strict tempos and deft control.

It was a performance of clarity and vigor, and for the audience of 500 seated solely in the Hall’s orchestra section there was no reason to regret the absence of a numerically larger ensemble.

To the standing ovation no encore was offered.