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Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
Symphony
PEACE AND LOVE FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 04, 2018
Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 4 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” Symphony CEO Alan Silow took a moment to acknowledge the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and to observe that music offers a more peaceful and loving view of the world. Mr. ...
Chamber
ATOS TRIO IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 04, 2018
When the ATOS Piano Trio planned their all-Russian touring program at their Berlin home base, it had a strong elegiac, even tragic theme that surely resonated with their Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience Nov. 4 in Mill Valley. Comprised of Annette von Hehn, violin; Thomas Hoppe, piano; and...
Chamber
ATOS TRIO IN OCCIDENTAL CHAMBER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 03, 2018
When the Berlin-based ATOS Piano Trio entered the cramped Occidental Performing Arts stage Nov. 3, the audience of 100 anticipated familiar works in the announced all-Russian program. What they got was a selection of rarely-plays trios, with a gamut of emotions. Then one-movement Rachmaninoff G Mi...
Symphony
MIGHTY SHOSTAKOVICH 10TH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 28, 2018
Just two works were on the opening program of the Marin Symphony’s 67th season Oct. 28, Tchaikovsky’s iconic D Major Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. Before a full house in the Marin Center Auditorium conductor Alasdair Neale set a judicious opening tempo in the brief orchestra i...
Symphony
VIVALDI FOR ALL SEASONS IN WEILL BAROQUE CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, October 27, 2018
The Venice Baroque Orchestra, a dozen superb musicians that include strings, harpsichord and recorder, played an uplifting concert Oct. 27 of mostly Vivaldi sinfonias and concertos. The Weill Hall audience of 600 had rapt attention throughout, and the playing was of the highest musical level. This r...
Recital
LIN'S PIANISM AND PERSONA CHARM SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 21, 2018
In somewhat of a surprise a sold out Schroeder Hall audience greeted pianist Steven Lin Oct. 21 in his local debut recital. Why a surprise? Because Mr. Lin was pretty much unknown in Northern California, and Schroeder is rarely, very rarely sold out for a single instrumentalist. But no matter, and...
Chamber
HEROIC TRUMPET AND ORGAN MUSIC AT INCARNATION
by Jerry Dibble
Friday, October 12, 2018
The strong connections between Santa Rosa’s musical community and California State University Chico were on display Oct. 12 as David Rothe, Professor Emeritus in the Chico Music Department, and Ayako Nakamura, trumpet with the North State Symphony, presented a concert titled “Heroic Music for Trumpe...
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.