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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...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, February 12, 2017
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Alessio Bax, piano

Pianist Alessio Box

WHAT SOUND DO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS MAKE?

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the Santa Rosa Symphony feted the occasion by telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet, a tale ever the more poignant during our era of stark divisions. The first telling was from Berlioz; the second from Prokofiev. In between was Brahms’ monumental B-Flat Second Piano Concerto, Op. 83, with soloist Alessio Bax.

Mr. Bax is a no-frills pianist who sits ramrod straight with his head bent over the keyboard. No skyward gazes or expressive swaying for him: just the keys and the pedals. Given his diminutive frame, he doesn’t seem like he could generate much volume with his restrained approach--but appearances are deceiving. After a lengthy warm-up, he displayed as much thunder and amplitude as the best of them, along with an exceedingly soft touch.

It often takes soloists and orchestras a few measures to warm up to each other before they start playing music instead of notes. In this case, the warm-up extended for two movements. Bax, conductor Bruno Ferrandis and the orchestra didn’t really connect until the gorgeous Andante of the third movement.

Part of the problem was Mr. Bax’s insistent use of the damper pedal, which blends notes together into a smooth veneer instead of bringing out their contrasts. The result was too much legato and not enough staccato or resonance. Bax’s technique was flawless, and he played all the notes, but he seemed distant from the other musicians on the stage.

That all changed in the Andante, one of the most heartfelt in the repertoire. Principal cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns opened with a beautifully sustained solo that traversed the orchestra and ended up with Mr. Bax, who entered with a touch so light and responsive that his fingers barely glanced the keys. The ring finally fit the finger, and the ensuing interplay with the orchestra was as restful and becalmed as a warm embrace. Goose bumps were the order of the day. The unusual fourth movement was just as good, leading to a well-deserved standing ovation.

Berlioz and Prokofiev offered a different take on musical romance, the first too short and the second too long. Before the Brahms concerto, the orchestra played only the introduction to Berlioz’s rarely heard “Romeo and Juliet,” a self-described “dramatic symphony” about the ill-fated couple. In contrast, the second half featured not one but two suites from Prokofiev’s ballet of the same name--14 pieces in all. The second suite is by far the more dramatic and would have made an ideal mate for more selections from the Berlioz.

As it was, the Berlioz score from 1839 simply whetted the appetite for more. The furious string work mimicking the feuding Montagues and Capulets gave way to authoritative playing from the horns and trombones to herald the arrival of the duke. The sound reverberated throughout the hall, followed by a pianissimo exit from the strings. The story was over before it began.

Not so with the Prokofiev suites, which carry Romeo and Juliet all the way from their first meeting to their untimely demise in the tomb. The first suite consists mostly of incidental dances from the ballet, but the second clearly reflects the story. You can almost close your eyes and see the dancers before you.

Of particular note was the Montagues and Capulets scene at the beginning of the second suite, which covers the same dramatic ground as the Berlioz. The orchestra’s sound was impressive at all levels, each section holding its own in a battle of fortissimos. On the flip side, the subsequent “Young Juliet” was hauntingly beautiful, with exceptional playing from the cello and saxophone.

The rest of the suite was equally superb. Mr. Ferrandis kept a steady rhythm throughout and ratcheted up the intensity as the tragic conclusion loomed ever closer. It was a bravura performance, culminating in a searing rendition of the final scene at Romeo and Juliet’s grave. Happy Valentine’s Day.