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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results donít measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonicís Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosaís Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San Josť, Costa Ricaís capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious†building†that is one of Sonoma Countyís loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.† Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hallís residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLERíS FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the universityís stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the universityís Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. SaŽnsí majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec lí...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago ďGolden EraĒ of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didnít play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuberís work to the publicís attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, February 09, 2018
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. Walter Seyfarth, clarinet; Marion Reinhardt, bassoon; Michael Hasel, flute; Andreas Wittman, oboe; Fergus McWilliam, horn; Steven Hough, piano

Pianist Steven Hough

BERLIN WIND QUINTET'S NOVEL PROGRAM SCORES IN WEILL CONCERT

by nicholas xenelis
Friday, February 09, 2018

Driving into the Green Music Center parking lot Feb. 10 I knew there was something unusual taking place since the lot was nearly full. Was another event going on this same night? A large crowd in Weill Hall isnít expected for chamber music, in this case with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet.

SSU Orchestra Director Alex Kahn led a pre-concert discussion and the players with their German accents and broken English made a strong connection with the audience. Oboist Andreas Wittmann and flutist Michael Hasel made brief remarks, and clarinetist Walter Seyfarth spoke of the Philharmonicís history. Pianist Stephan Hough, composer of a Trio for Bassoon (originally for contra bassoon, and played by Marion Reinhard), Piccolo and Piano, described his interest to write something unusual and challenging. A wind player in the audience asked about choice of reeds for different climates, and Mr. Whitman replied that he used Legere plastic reeds.

After welcoming applause Mr. Houghís Trio for Piccolo, Contra Bassoon, and Piano was played, in a version that used flute and bassoon. The change made what might be an odd but intriguing combination seem more normal. Mr. Hasel performed on a wooden flute that had a beautiful silvery sound, and the opening of the first movement was like an elixir that had been poured over the audience. The sounds of lyric overlapping phrases and textures were clear, vibrant, and live in the best Weill Hall acoustics. The second movement began with crashing crushed chords and rhythmic scherzo figures flourishing and bantered about on the flute while the bassoonís line danced in contrast with echoes of composer John Williams-like figures or even Hindemithís music. It was ear catching and grabbing.

The andante third movement introduced the piano part while the bassoon and flute slowly disappeared into a sudden silence, the piano phrases becoming luscious chords. This was a striking moment for the piece, and a magical performance.

The Hough work led into Mozartís Piano E Flat Quintet, K. 452, a model for Beethoven and other composers. One aspect of this pieceís compositional history is that it inspired Beethoven and other composers that utilized this instrumental combination. From the outset the ensemble was tight, soft, balanced and warm. Articulations were completely matched and added a distinct Berlin Philharmonic character. The timbre of the oboe is distinctly European and mellow as well as reedy sounding. It blended well with the other woodwinds.

As the allegro developed the clarinet and oboe set out the principal themes, and the horn and bassoon lines would occasionally part from their accompanying figures to join in a melodic fragment. The playing was crisp and light, and not percussively staccato. The lyrical phrasing was eloquently Mozartian.
Playing is the slow second movement was restrained and dominated by the clarinet and oboe sharing in the feast of E Flat melodies, a preferred key for woodwinds in Mozartís compositions. The horn and bassoon played the harmonic background beautifully and added their lyric style. Many captivating sounds were the triple pianissimos which give a velvety and decidedly wider contrast to the music, often difficult for a woodwind quintet to achieve.

In the finale there were many unique score markings and contrasts that are not normally heard in performances of this Quintet, suggesting a unique edition and editor. Fortissimo chords were heard so seldom that effective contrasts were amplified. Mr. Hough was virtuosic in his flying scales and arpeggios.

Six Ligeti bagatelles followed intermission. What a fantastic piece! It was played beautifully with aplomb and artfulness as well as technical mastery. Each instrument was featured at various times. Playing each section without pause, the ensemble started out rhythmically dancing in bright articulations with humor and occasional dissonances. It was fun to hear and observe the players intermingling their parts in perfect harmony. The second movementís playing gave way to fluid lines and turns of expression with the French horn using his hand to effectively alter the tone color and timbre. The interval of minor seconds rubbing in contrast with a sudden unison brought sonic surprise. After developing the melodic material and displaying the distress implied in melodies, the piece ends on a major chord as if to relax player and audience alike.

The third movement showcased hornist Fergus McWilliamís sound and control accompanied by a seven-note staccato rhythm in the other instruments, much like music of Bartok. The finale uses a five-beat pattern in a mode reminiscent of Bartok and folk music of the Hungarian areas of Europe. Here was a fine display of the musicianship of Berlin winds. They beautifully interpreted and performed this challenging but rewarding music. Parts of the last two movements were wild and the music danced across the stage from instrument to instrument, and was played with abandon. There was a possibility of fatigue as tuning suffered during chords that were forte and also in awkward registers for the instruments. There was much applause.

The performance of Poulencís Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet in three movements was arguably the best ensemble and thematic blending of the concert. Poulenc completed the Quintet in 1932 and clearly displayed his love of the woodwinds. He has written of his passion for woodwinds ďsince he began composing.Ē He also wrote sonatas for a flute, clarinet, and oboe. Mr. Whittmann had trouble hearing his pitch, which perhaps was because of the A-440 pitch tuning in America, as opposed to the A-443 tuning of Berlin Philharmonic. Weill Hall pianos are tuned to A-441.

One can hear American Jazz and Stravinsky influences in style as well as rhythmic challenges in this work. What impressed me again with this ensemble was the degree of dynamic contrast, especially with interwoven phrasing and projection from Mr. Hough.

The allegro vivace opening conjures images of a bustling city with mechanical and harsh sounds, as playing in the extreme registers of all instruments made for an intense sonic experience. Mr. Ferguson performed beautiful French horn lines in extreme registers. In the second movement the oboe became the charming voice of thematic entry, and the playing in the final movement returned to the crazy character of city life filled with angst, as well as tender moments that altered the dissonances.

Instrumental technical shortcomings made much of the playing less than flawless, but the performance was surely enjoyable, and to hear a full concert of provocative music from the Berlin Quintet with Mr. Hough was unique in Weill. Considering the Hallís size and acoustics, the Berlin musicians provided ample sonic splendor and consummate interpretations.