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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...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
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...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, April 08, 2017
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Leyla Kabuli, piano

Pianist Leyla Kabuli April 8 in Santa Rosa

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,“Titan”) April 8 was the intrepid Sonoma County Philharmonic, playing before an audience of 300 in the Santa Rosa High School Hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa took moderate tempos throughout, aiming for sonic balance in the score that runs well over 50 minutes. In a departure from local symphonic custom Mr. Gamboa directed from memory, and clearly the Mahler is a special piece for him.

In the long five-movement work a key conductor’s task is to balance instrumental sections, especially to limit brass domination of the strings, and Mr. Gamboa here was mostly successful. He caught the jolly swing from the opening bucolic pianississimo to gentle melodies in the horns (Ruth Wilson, Eric Anderson).

Tom Hyde’s trumpet solo set off the first theme of the Blumine movement, with lovely playing from harpist Randall Pratt and oboist Chris Krive, the latter playing a long Wagner-like melancholy theme. The ending in the high strings was shimmering and convincing.

Through the third and fourth (march) movements Mahler’s demands for seamless horn and wind choir playing were difficult to sustain, as the combination of instrumental stamina and high volume took a toll. That said, handsome playing was abundant in large numbers: four flutes and piccolo (Emily Reynolds, Debra Scheuerman, Mary Kemnec, Valerie White); bassoon and contrabassoon (Miranda Kincaid, Steven Peterson). The finale featured the visual treat of eight horn players standing in a row in front of the percussion section and blowing an inspired lyric melody that harkens to the D Major that was last heard long ago during the first movement. Assaulting violence in sound alternated with the composer’s splashy thematic richness. It was a harbinger of what was to some in the next 20 years and eight additional symphonies.

A signature part of this symphony is the contrabass solo (played by Karen Zimmerman) and perky piccolo duet in the march, and the conductor shaped it as a slow march. But there was nothing funereal about the sound, and Mr. Gamboa’s canny control of the many delicate changes of rhythm kept the music’s pulse steady.

One piece comprised the concert’s first half, Rachmaninoff’s C Minor Concerto (Op. 18) with pianist Leyla Kabuli. Ms. Kabuli’s playing had many fresh effects including uniquely breaking several of the opening left-hand chords and soberly artful phrasing. The ensemble was marred by the orchestra sounding too loud.

Clarity returned in the famous adagio sostenuto that featured flute and horn solos. Ms. Kabula mastered the tsunami of notes to the degree that lyric beauty of phrase was the focus in this super romantic score. Rachmaninoff’s four Concertos, Rhapsody and two Sonatas all are crammed with notes for the pianist, and though it’s easy to omit some in the thick sonic mix, the resulting aural fabric is adversely changed. Mr. Gamboa and Ms. Kabula solved this concern by adopting judicious tempos and watchful deference to the other’s musical part.

Oboe (Mr. Krive) and clarinet paying (Nick Xenelis) were first cabin throughout the work, and Robby Morales performed a sumptuous viola solo in the concluding allegro scherzando. The Hall's resident piano, sub par in past seasons in a Falla work and Mozart’s K. 488 Concerto, here sounded well, with surprisingly not brilliant hammer voicing and an improvement from the formerly dull bass string sound.

Ms. Kabula’s hard work in the finale was compromised by an overly resonant orchestra, and her playing in the speedy coda was buried. She could be seen but not heard.

Perhaps the pianist wanted to have a strong final say, and returned amidst an ovation to play a long encore - Liszt’s 12th Etude d’execution transcendante, Chasse-neige (Snow Plow). It was a wonderful performance with accurate contrary-motion chord skips and rapid tremolo. There wasn’t a hint of slackening endurance and the audience loved it.