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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
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.