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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 it seems to be on almost every...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
Chamber
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
Recital
KENNER'S ALL POLISH RECITAL HAS PADEREWSKI RARITY
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Kevin Kenner’s April 8 recital at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall had been advertised as all-Chopin, but he added a detour into another seminal Polish composer-pianist, Paderewski. Several of Mr. Kenner’s teachers were Poles, he speaks Polish, and he navigated at the piano both composers’ deman...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Chamber
VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018
At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schro...
Choral and Vocal
GOOD FRIDAY REQUIEM FILLS INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 30, 2018
Maurice Duruflé’s short and intense Requiem has been heard in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation before, but the March 30 Good Friday performance was stripped down in the number of performers, combining Cantiamo Sonoma and the St. Cecilia Choir with musical underpinning from organist Robert Youn...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Recital
VIRTUOSIC VARIATIONS IN MORGAN'S SCHROEDER ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Organist Robert Huw Morgan’s artistry spun through the web of early variation form in a Mar. 18 recital on Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh organ. Mr. Morgan, Stanford University’s resident organist, performs a wide range of repertoire, but as he said in comments to the audience, he loves when h...
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.