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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
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 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.