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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
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...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
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...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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.