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Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
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!”