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Chamber
BEETHOVEN FEATURED IN SF TRIO'S OCCIDENTAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Conventional repertoire in uncommonly good performances highlighted the San Francisco Piano Trio’s Jan. 19 concert in the Occidental Center for the Arts. Haydn’s No. 44 Trio (Hob. XV:28) came from late in his long career, when he was in and out of London, and received a sparkling reading that featu...
SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close bu...
Choral and Vocal
ORPHEUS OF AMSTERDAM'S MUSIC IN SCHROEDER ORGAN CHORAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, January 10, 2020
“All over the map.” Sonoma Bach, directed by Bob Worth, has taken its audiences this season on journeys through many centuries and many lands. The programming is fresh and intriguing and the performers varied and creators of beauty and interest. The January 10 program was centered on organ works by...
Choral and Vocal
OLD NORTH GERMAN CAROLS IN SONOMA BACH'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, December 15, 2019
“Cast off all sorrows…also dance in heavenly fashion.” A volume called Piae Cantiones was printed in 1582 in North Germany, lively songs going back to the 14th century, and this treasure trove provided material for numerous composers to arrange Christmas carols over following generations, from simp...
Symphony
EVERLASTING LIGHT AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 09, 2019
The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night. The soloists were good, but the choir was superb. Located wi...
Symphony
UNFINISHED AND FINNISH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 08, 2019
Having a new resident conductor on the podium for the Ukiah Symphony was an attractive invitation for a long-delayed visit to Mendocino College’s Center Theater Dec. 8. The insouciant Les Pfutzenreuter recently retired after decades of conducting the ensemble, replaced by Phillip Lenberg who also j...
Choral and Vocal
PRAERTORIUS IN RENAISSANCE GLORY FROM SONOMA BACH
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Sonoma Bach Choir, in collaboration with Barefoot All-Stars Viol Consort and The Whole Noyse Brass Ensemble, presented “Sing Glorious Praetorius!” November 16 to an almost full Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. The Soloists were soprano Dianna Morgan, Christopher Fritzsche, (countertenor), m...
Symphony
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL EXCITEMENT IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Beginning with a scintillating reading of Rossini’s Overture to the Opera “Semiramide,” the Sonoma County Philharmonic performed a splendid program Nov. 16 in the Jackson Theater, and featured two additional works, one showcasing the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Young Artist Award. It...
Chamber
SPIRITUAL LATE BEETHOVEN QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, called “unparalleled in its inexhaustibility” by critic Thomas May, is a daunting challenge. Orchestral in concept, filled with wit and charm, melancholy and fury, it almost overwhelms listeners. Playing the frenetic Scherzo, a viol...
Symphony
MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 04, 2019
It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here. The evening began with...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Saturday, January 17, 2009
Afiara String Quartet

The Afiara String Quartet

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Every string quartet has to start somewhere. For the Afiara String Quartet, that somewhere includes the Occidental Community Church, where they performed on Jan. 17.

The Afiara is quite young and relatively new, having formed at the San Francisco Conservatory in 2006. Blessed with impeccable academic credentials, they are currently teaching assistants to the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco State University.

Whether the Afiara’s credentials translate into solid music-making is an open question, and remained so after their Occidental performance. While they showed flashes of brilliance in Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, their musical light flickered somewhat in Mozart’s K. 428, and dimmed considerably in Beethoven’s Op. 130.

Let’s start at the beginning. Warmly welcomed by another full house crammed into the church’s knee-capping pews, the Afiara got right down to business with an engaging reading of Mozart’s K. 428, the third of the six string quartets he dedicated to Joseph Haydn. They displayed an excellent blend in the Allegro first movement, with well-connected notes and a wide dynamic range. The pleasing blend continued into the luxurious Andante of the second movement, enhanced by matching vibratos and a lush sound.

The third movement, alas, began with a timid attack, weakened all the more by a dragging tempo. What should have been a Minuet became more of a foot stomp, and the previously distinctive texture turned to mush. Fortunately, the players rallied in the last movement, investing Mozart’s operatic writing with some genuine emotion.

Next up was Bartok No. 3. Oddly, the violist gave a somewhat condescending introduction to the piece, along the lines of, “It’s filled with unusual sounds, but it’s only 15 minutes long, so please bear with us.” Surely by now, more than 80 years after the quartet’s premiere, audiences can enjoy this masterpiece without a preparatory lecture.

The performance, in any event, was absolutely riveting. From the opening glissandos to the ringing unisons, the Afiara produced a beautiful sound that powerfully evoked Bartok’s native landscape. One could almost see the Hungarian plains, with their constantly buzzing insects and foreboding skies. At one point, the quartet produced an all-encompassing vault of sound, with the cellist serving as foundation, the middle instruments as sides, and the first violin soaring above. The range of effects, from resonant pizzicatos to spine-tingling ponticellos, increased the density and variety of the sonic mass, which more than filled the little church.

It seemed like a hard performance to top, and it was. After an overly long intermission with yet another introduction, the Afiara launched into the original version of Beethoven’s Op. 130, which concludes with the mighty Grosse Fuge. Right from the start, the texture was muddy, and the first violinist’s intonation went south. The quartet played the notes, but they didn’t seem to have figured out an interpretation. The phrasing was indistinct, the shape elusive.

The connections between the six movements of Op. 130 were further diminished by the quartet’s constant tuning and retuning. Instead of the coherent masterpiece it is, the piece ended up sounding like a dance suite. Although the dances were occasionally sprightly, they were most often ponderous and slow. The playing perked up in the Grosse Fuge, particularly in the initial entries, where each instrument forged a distinctive voice. But after a while the ensemble faltered, and the four musicians wandered apart, searching for their musical glue.

At the end, one wished the Afiara hadn’t taken on such an ambitious program. There are plenty of compositions that might be better suited to their talents and insight. Late Beethoven is a tough place to start.