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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...
Symphony
DVORAK SYMPHONY CYCLE CONTINUES IN VSO SEASON OPENING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 03, 2019
There was a surprise at the Nov. 3 Vallejo Symphony’s 88th season opening Concert. Of the three works programed by conductor Marc Taddei, the Bartok E major Piano Concerto was the least craggy and sonically demanding. Bartok upstaged in musical impact? How so? Before a nearly sold out Empress Theat...
Choral and Vocal
INSPIRED SONOMA BACH CONCERT IN GLAZER CENTER
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, October 26, 2019
On October 25 Sonoma County residents were being put on notice that due to the wind-whipped and rapidly spreading Kincade Fire in Geyserville, many parts of the county would soon need be evacuated. Sonoma State University had closed the campus for the weekend, which meant that Sonoma Bach's season o...
Recital
ELEGANT BACH AND BUXTEHUDE HIGHLIGHT HOULIHAN'S ORGAN RECITAL IN SCHROEDER
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Organist Christopher Houlihan presented an October 20 recital of mostly Bach and Buxtehude with a few detours into the Romantic Era, playing in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh instrument. He was enthusiastically received by the capacity audience. The artist gave informative co...
Chamber
RARE LEKEU QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS SEASON OPENING RAC CONCERT IN OCCIDENTAL
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, October 19, 2019
The five musicians of the American Chamber Players brought mostly unfamiliar music to their Oct. 19 Redwood Arts Council concert in Occidental’s intimate Performing Arts Center. Violist and group founder Miles Hoffman spoke briefly to the audience to open the evening.  An instantly engaging speaker...
Chamber
POTENT MANHATTAN TRIO PERFORMANCES AT GUALALA ARTS CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Gualala Arts has been North Coast gem since 1980s, presenting a wide menu of musical programs in the charming small concert hall in the redwoods near the ocean in Gualala, and the Manhattan Piano Trio opened the new season Oct. 13. It was the fifth appearance in Gualala for this New York-based ense...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, February 03, 2018
Renée Fleming, soprano; Helmut Höll, piano

Soprano Renée Fleming

A COMPLETE ARTISTIC PACKAGE IN FLEMING'S WEILL HALL RECITAL

by Vaida Falconbridge and Mary Beard
Saturday, February 03, 2018

The diva Renée Fleming strode on the Weill Hall stage Feb. 2 in her first couture gown of the evening, a gray and swirling cream strapless sheath with flamboyant coordinating stole. For this concert, Ms. Fleming stayed to somewhat lighter fare, foregoing heavier dramatic and coloratura arias for a variety of songs and arias that allowed her personality to shine and showcased a wide palette of vocal colors and emotions. She delighted the sold out Hall, pulling the audience into the singer’s pain, laughter, and also drawing a tear or two in an inspirational program.

Opening with two Handel arias, Ms. Fleming displayed perfect legato and a warm simplicity, and several well-articulated trills during “Ombra mai fu” from the opera Xerses, and then took a long and unusual appoggiatura (from below) into the high note at the penultimate cadence, providing a novel musical treat in the first selection. Second was “Bel piacere e godere” (from Agrippina), a showy and agile paean to the delights of true love.

Ms. Fleming then introduced a group of seven of her favorite Brahms songs, with wide contrasts in tempi, dynamics, mood, and variety of texts. Highlights included “Mondnacht,” with lovely dreamy floating pianissimos; “Meine Liebe ist grun” (Op. 63,No. 6), an impassioned text of exultant love written by Felix Schumann; and the humor of “Vergebliches Standchen” where the singer plays the roles of both the young man courting and his coquettish rejecting lady-love. Ms. Fleming acted each role quite distinctly, one from the other, telling a delightful tale. The speed of the song made the piano accompaniment more dramatic than usual. One special gem in the group was Brahms’ “Lullaby” (Op. 49, No. 4) which many might be tempted to think of as a ‘warhorse’, or otherwise forgettable. However, one would be hard put to hear it more artfully and tenderly performed than it was in this recital.

Closing the first half were two remarkable songs by the American composer Caroline Shaw, who in 2013 won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, the youngest recipient ever. Ms. Fleming premiered these two songs in Carnegie Hall. The evocative “Aurora Borealis” painted the starkness of a dark winter night sky with many straight tones, paired with lush tones depicting the colors of the aurora borealis, and it featured a fairly lengthy and haunting melisma at the end. “Bed of Letters,” about a relationship, also unexpectedly swelled into a melismatic improvisation on the word “bloom” three fourths of the way into the song, and then ended with an extended low-pitched denouement, becoming a perfect showcase for Ms. Fleming’s rightfully famous rich, warm and resonant low notes.

Hartmut Höll was a wonderful pianist in exemplary ensemble with Ms. Fleming all evening.

The first attraction of the recital’s second half was another gorgeous gown, this time a very sparkly lilac, purple and charcoal sheath with matching duster, which very evidently pleased the audience, after which the always-elegant Ms. Fleming charmingly confessed, “I like clothes applause!” The singing featured a distinctive French grouping, with two chansons by Gabriel Fauré, an aria by (mostly) pop artist Rufus Wainwright, and a charming Oscar Straus operetta tune made famous by the early 20th-century French singer/actress Yvonne Printemps.

Set to poems by Paul-Marie Verlaine, the Fauré songs were alternately hypnotic (“Clair de lune,” Op. 46, No. 2) and playful (“Mandoline,” Op. 58). Both are well-known selections, and in fact are frequently sung by voice students. Ms. Fleming’s interpretation was masterful in her phrasing and musicality, choosing tempi, coloring and dynamics that make these songs sound uncommonly fresh and beautiful. “Les feux d’artifice t’appellent” (The Fireworks are Calling) by Wainwright, from his opera Prima Donna, cast a special spell with a soft and constantly moving piano accompaniment shimmering under the vocal line. The audience responded particularly well to the teasing, seductive “Je t’aime quand meme” (I love you, all the same) from Les Trois Valses (1935) by Straus. Ms. Fleming sang part of the song turned around and facing the audience in the choir loft, as well as turning to the balconies on the sides, including everyone in the merriment.

Music theater was next, with two songs chosen as a tribute to singer Barbara Cook, who was a neighbor of Ms. Fleming’s before her recent death. “Till There Was You” from The Music Man was simple and yet stunning, and again Ms. Fleming took a unique high note at the end for an extravagant finish. She needed audience participation on “I Whistle a Happy Tune” (The King and I) since she confessed that she could not whistle herself. The audience was asked to whistle along in certain parts, and luckily there were enough whistlers in the crowd to sound pretty good!

Concluding the program were two Dvorak songs, sung in Czech, both of which were delivered with great feeling and displaying that glorious, creamy tone for which she is so renowned. The two, “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and “Song to the Moon” from the opera “Rusalka,” are specialties of the singer. Anyone in the audience who did not previously know the Rusalka aria had surely included it in their list of favorites by the end of the concert.

Standing ovations immediately broke out, which led into two popular encores: Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from the opera “Gianni Schicchi,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway hit My Fair Lady. She invited the audience to sing with her on the second chorus, and for several minutes it was the largest choir in northern California.

And to top that off, many members of the audience happily left Weill Hall able to say, “I have sung with Renée Fleming!”