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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, December 04, 2016
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Christopher Bengochea, tenor; Jenni Samuelson, soprano; Philip Skinner, baritone. Sonoma State University Choir

Edgar Allan Poe

HEAR THE TOLLING OF THE BELLS--IRON BELLS!

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 04, 2016

Thanks to the generosity of Don Green (as in Green Music Center), the Santa Rosa Symphony has for many years performed an annual choral program, usually during the holiday season. In keeping with this tradition, the orchestra and the SSU Symphonic Chorus featured Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony “The Bells” during their Dec. 3-5 concert set (I attended on Dec. 4). Rachmaninoff’s title suggests a festive work appropriate to the season, but the reality is that “The Bells” is a peculiarly Russian version of Edgar Allan Poe’s captivating but ultimately tragic poem, more suitable for mourning than merriment.

The music of “The Bells” is among Rachmaninoff’s best, mixing equal parts of passion and invention. The third movement, “Alarm Bells,” is particularly stirring in its mixture of fortissimo choral lines, unusual orchestration and melodic fervor. Both choir and orchestra proved up to the task in this performance, with lines like “In a tuneless, jangling wrangling as they shriek, and shriek, and shriek” ringing forth with clear diction and enormous power. Maestro Bruno Ferrandis conducted with vigor, and the orchestra sustained the drama throughout.

The other movements were less impressive, hampered by often inaudible soloists, imperfect balance and a strangely perverted translation and retranslation of Poe from English to Russian to English. Much is lost in transit, such as Poe’s insistent repetition of key words--bells, time, tinkle--and his rhythmic intensity. Captivating lines like “How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle / In the icy air of night” are debased into “Rippling sounds of laughter falling / On the icy midnight air.”

These textual difficulties were somewhat moot during the performance because the words were often hard to hear and nearly impossible to read in the darkness. Perhaps the powers that be could raise the auditorium lights slightly during vocal performances or even consider using supertitles, as in opera houses.

Tenor soloist Christopher Bengochea sang with excellent diction, but his voice was somewhat dark, and his head was often buried in the score. Soprano Jenni Samuelson has a lovely voice, but her insistent vibrato sometimes overpowered the text; her performance was much better in Rachmaninoff’s wordless “Vocalise,” which ended the program. Baritone Philip Skinner was the most impressive soloist, enunciating his mournful lines with deep resonance. He was also the most engaged with the audience, rarely referring to his score.

“The Bells” was actually the second bell-related piece on the program, which opened with a spirited performance of contemporary composer August Read Thomas’s “Prayer Bells.” Like many other modern compositions, the work is built around a single sustained note, or drone, heard in different octaves. The melodic material, such as it is, begins and ends on the drone, with no forward progression. Attention thus focuses on orchestral color and quality of sound, which was impressive; but the lack of forward motion was frustrating.

The highlight of the concert was Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” which earned a standing ovation before intermission from the packed house. The majestic ninth variation, “Nimrod,” is often played by itself, but it sounds even better when heard in the context of the 13 other variations on Elgar’s “Enigma” theme.

Unlike purely musical variations, Elgar’s are based on the characteristics of individual people, with only distant references to the original theme. This change in basis, as it were, gives Elgar considerable freedom to depict each person’s foibles in sound. There is considerable variety to the variations, and the orchestration is consistently inventive and delightful.

The symphony played with great confidence and gusto, easily switching from grim foreboding to fragile delicacy. The clarinet, viola and cello solos were outstanding, and Ferrandis’s conducting was both steady and fluid throughout. He would have done better to program the gloomy Rachmaninoff first and the shimmering Elgar last, so everyone could leave with a smile on their face instead of a furrowed brow.