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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, September 30, 2017
Norman Gamboa, conductor

Conductor Norman Gamboa

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 the uncommonly heard first Symphony of Tchaikovsky. The G Minor Major Symphony doesn’t have quite the emotional impact and tight construction of the iconic Fourth, Fifth and Sixth symphonies, but the seeds of the composer’s greatness are everywhere to be heard in the early work from 1866 and revised in 1874 – stirring themes, virtuoso demands throughout each section, and at time volcanic climaxes. It’s long at 48 minutes but this performance was worth every second.

Mr. Gamboa made a number of decisions that served this florid music well. His tempos never were rushed, and he allowed soloists in several sections to continually shine. The Orchestra’s winds have been at the heart of memorable performances for years, and here oboists Kris Krive, clarinetist Nick Xenelis, flutists Debra Scheuerman and Martha Krones, and bassoonist Miranda Kincaid were sterling all evening. In this Symphony the composer used winds for much of the thematic statements, supported by the violins, and the themes from the principal wind players were achingly extravagant.

At the big climaxes that characterize Tchaikovsky (as with Sibelius and Shostakovich) Mr. Gamboa had his hands full keeping the instrumental choirs, especially the high strings, clear and distinct from low strings. He was largely successful, especially in the adagio cantabile second movement, where the flute and oboe duets were captivating.

In the scherzo the playing was brisk and colorful, with the composer’s mastery of pizzicato (brilliantly exploited later in his Fourth Symphony) piquant. A surprise came in the long introduction to the finale where the conductor drew extended phrases and deft rhythmic control from the Orchestra, making the transition to the magisterial allegro all the more striking and convincing. Here there were jolting echoes of Sibelius’ FInlandia (composed 34 years later!). The fugue textures were clear, again the product of virtuoso wind play and Mr. Gamboa’s attention to cutoffs, the many modulations and section balance.

A raucous ovation from the audience of 250 brought the conductor back for one curtain call, but oddly no individual player recognition was chosen.

The concert began with the three Dvorak overtures – In Nature’s Realm, Othello, and Carnaval. Only the last is frequently performed, and a chance to hear Othello was an unexpected treat. It was the most Wagnerian of the three with descending phrases and mysterious harmonies that Dvorak must have absorbed at Bayreuth. The Philharmonic’s playing caught the somber and nostalgic mood of the work, although fast descending runs in the violins were often blurred. An occasional nod to Bruckner’s music is in the Othello Overture.

In the first and third overtures contrast could not be starker. The bucolic Nature’s Realm was played as an awakening of ravishing outdoor sound, lovely and never so persistent to mar a joyous mood. Though often overly loud with ragged entrances, the music had a quaint ballet character that was irresistible, and Mr. Gamboa gave lots of rhythmic leeway to achieve his conception of Dvorak’s music stemming from Czech country tunes and dances. Clarinet and oboe playing was exemplary.

In the most “Dvorak” of the overtures the familiar Carnaval was appropriately blaring and rollicking. A third flute part was added to the mix, and flourishes from the augmented percussionists (cymbals, tambourine, triangle) gave spice to the rich sound. It’s a foot-tapping piece that exploits the brass and horns, and the Philharmonic seemed to enjoy playing the racy and heated music as much the audience did hearing it.

Verbal presentations before and during the concert underscored the Philharmonic’s community volunteer and connections, and augur well for the new season that will feature demanding Lutoslawski, Nielsen and Hindemith compositions. Clearly Mr. Gamboa is setting a high bar.