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Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH 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...
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...
Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Symphony
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 t...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Symphony
SOVIETS INVADE WEILL HALL, TAKE NO PRISONERS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 07, 2017
Bruno Ferrandis may be French, but he excels in Soviet repertoire. His Slavonic expertise was more than amply demonstrated at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, where the program began joyfully with Khachaturian’s ballet suite from “Masquerade,” surged forward with Prokofiev’s second violin co...
Symphony
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,...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, November 03, 2017
Marinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, conductor. Denis Matsuev, piano

Conductor Valery Gergiev

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 orchestra. On this day it was the legendary Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg, under the baton of international star Valery Gergiev. Qualms were put to rest at the outset.

The answer for a paltry audience of 500 was joy and a huge ovation at the conclusion of Prokofiev’s G Minor (No. 2, Op. 16) Concerto. This work was absent from programs for many years, though the wonderful Jorge Bolet championed it and recently Yuja Wang has taken it up. The technical demands for the pianist, especially in the first movement cadenza but also throughout, are ferocious, and stamina is needed as well as speed and instrumental volume. Mr. Matsuev didn’t shy away from an immense and raucous sound, and he nailed the breakneck right hand skips and thunderous repeated bass chords with seeming ease. But certainly it wasn’t an easy matter to not be covered by the 75-piece Russian orchestra playing at full tilt. A different part of the artist’s technique was evident when he captured a far away mystical and faint sound at the reappearance in the coda of the work’s first theme.

In the scherzo’s perpetuam mobile and the intermezzo his playing was seldom below a mezzo forte, though the Orchestra’s low string sound was always husky. Mr. Matsuev uses shoulder and arm weight and ample but quick damper pedal to underscore the composer’s driving rhythms and deft references to parts of the First Concerto, written when a student and about a decade prior to the G Minor. The finale was more of the same thick and dense sound, rolling along at a fast clip of formidable virtuosity. He seems happiest when the music needs fleet fingers. Mr. Gergiev’s conducting faultlessly followed every demand in the score, and the Orchestra had the right blend of Prokofiev’s motoric momentum and raw dissonance.

Recalled to the stage Mr. Matsuev played as an encore a parched and super fast finale (allegretto) to Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2.

Following intermission was the highlight of the evening, an amazing reading by Mr. Gergiev of Strauss’ turn-of-the-20th-Century tone poem Ein Heldenleben. Op. 40. From the opening chord growl of the bass and cello sections, the sound driving Weill’s mellow wood surfaces to perfection, the playing made it clear that a special musical event was to unfold.

Tempos in the five sections were brisk with section clarity brilliantly showcased, so different from the Concerto. Mr. Gergiev’s famous conducting technique with fluttering hands and seemingly awkward movements around a nonexistent podium, is sharply different from the “control” approach of conductors such as Bruno Ferrandis, Michael Tilson Thomas and Alan Gilbert. But make no mistake, control he has, and he crafted an orchestral fabric of great beauty and intense communication.

It’s impossible to single out the ensemble’s principals in the Strauss, as no names were in the printed program, and there was no identification in the Mariinsky’s Russian websites. However, I would be remiss not mention the concertmaster’s soaring solos; the elegant and commanding oboe, clarinet, flute and bassoon playing; and the superb unisons in the horn and trombone sections. Mr. Gergiev paid little attention to extended romantic ritards, preferring to use perfectly placed cutoffs to underscore drama, especially in the Hero at Battle section. The final ascending phrases in the solo violin were elegantly shaped by the conductor, and the long fermata that ended the 42-minute work that for me could have gone on for minutes.

This Ein Heldenleben was a champagne orgy of orchestra sound, perhaps surpassing even the glorious concerts in Weill years ago of the Russian National Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic.

The tumultuous applause produced an encore, a short brassy fanfare from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin.

Shostakovich’s E-Flat Major Symphony, Op. 70, opened the program and quickly disclosed the Mariinsky’s virtuosity. This Haydnesque Symphony is not to everyone’s taste, and some find it frivolous and overly brittle. I found the performance marvelous, the music fitting the St. Petersburg forces like an old shoe. The orchestra played it with great fervor and panache. Piccolo and flute playing was exemplary, as was cohesion in the upper strings. And the string mass, with second violins stage left, was rich and commanding.