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FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Symphony
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’ monu...
Symphony
FUNG TRIUMPHS IN SHOSTAKOVICH CONCERTO WITH VSO
by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Vallejo Symphony Orchestra presented their season’s second concert Jan. 29 in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium, devoted to early Haydn, middle Shostakovich and Beethoven’s ground-breaking “Eroica” Symphony. In remarks to the audiences of nearly 400, Conductor Marc Taddei characterized Haydn’s Sympho...
Symphony
SUBLIME MOZART CLARINET CONCERTO TOPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Sonoma County Philharmonic’s long history of featuring soloists from the neighborhood struck gold again Jan. 28 with a ravishing Mozart Clarinet Concerto performance with soloist Roy Zajac. Before an audience of 300 the Santa Rosa High School hall the A Major Concerto (K. 626) unfolded gracefully w...
Symphony
SYMPHONIC SPLENDOR AND HARP VIRTUOSITY AT SRS CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 07, 2017
A rainy winter Weill Hall audience of 800 heard the Santa Rosa Symphony Jan. 7 in an eclectic program of four composers including a provocative harp concerto. The music was preceded by manifold stage announcements and somber recognition of SRS musicians that had recently died. A rollicking performa...
Symphony
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 ...
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SENSUAL OPERATIC BON BONS AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Alan Bloom
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Music Director Norman Gamboa never fails to come up with interesting programs for his Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts. It was all opera music for the second concert set of the 2016-2017 season Nov. 19 in the Santa Rosa High School Auditorium. From the romantic opening swells of the Berlioz’ Ov...
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ORION WEISS TAKES BARTÓK AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 06, 2016
Gifted pianists are everywhere these days, but few have the prodigious speed, stamina, and musicality of Orion Weiss. He exhibited all these qualities in a memorable rendition of Béla Bartók’s second piano concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony Nov. 6 in Weill. Weiss is a no-nonsense pianist. He sea...
Symphony
TADDEI TRIUMPH IN VSO SEASON OPENING CONCERT
by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Vallejo Symphony Orchestra's guest soloist Sara Davis Buechner wowed her audience Oct. 30 in a stellar performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, the second of three pieces comprising the symphony’s season-opening performance in Hogan Auditorium and the debut of its new music director, Marc Ta...
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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 ...
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.