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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...
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...
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...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Symphony
SOVIETS INVADE WEILL HALL, TAKE NO PRISONERS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 07, 2017
Bruno Ferrandis may be French, but he excels in Soviet repertoire. His Slavonic expertise was more than amply demonstrated at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, where the program began joyfully with Khachaturian’s ballet suite from “Masquerade,” surged forward with Prokofiev’s second violin co...
Symphony
HULKING MAHLER "TITAN" AT SO CO PHIL'S SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 08, 2017
A composer’s first symphony rarely gives a clear indication of what beautiful complexities will follow over the years. Early Mozart and Tchaikovsky are examples, and the big exceptions to this axiom are the “firsts” of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler. Tackling Mahler ‘s D Major Symphony (No. 1,...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STAYS CLOSE TO HOME
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Santa Rosa Symphony concerts usually feature high-powered soloists imported from afar, but for their recent “Bring on the Strings” concert set, they stuck close to home, thrusting their principal violin, viola and cello into the limelight. The violinist (Joseph Edelberg) and the violist (Elizabeth P...
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.