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Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
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...
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 isn’t 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 Philharmonic’s 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. Hough’s 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 bassoon’s line danced in contrast with echoes of composer John Williams-like figures or even Hindemith’s 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 Mozart’s Piano E Flat Quintet, K. 452, a model for Beethoven and other composers. One aspect of this piece’s 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 Mozart’s 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 movement’s 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 McWilliam’s 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 Poulenc’s 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 “since he began composing.” 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 Hall’s size and acoustics, the Berlin musicians provided ample sonic splendor and consummate interpretations.