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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
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.