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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Brentano String Quartet / Sunday, September 30, 2018
Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violin; Misha Amory, viola; Nina Lee, cello

Brentano String Quartet Accepting Applause Sept. 30 in Weill Hall

THORNY BARTOK AND ELEGANT MENDELSSOHN FOR THE BRENTANO

by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, September 30, 2018

In a minor masterpiece of programming choices the Brentano String Quartet played a Sept. 30 Weill Hall program with an emphasis on refinement, even with a challenging Bartok work in the mix.

Dvorák’s Miniatures for Two Violins and Viola (Op. 75a) opened the concert with charm and gentle loveliness, then folk dance jubilation, profound sadness and finally sighs of lament. The colors were varied and the textures of the three instruments seemed to beguile the attentive audience of 300. The balance and communication of the players was exquisite and powerful in understatement. Czech rhythms appeared in the capriccio, poco allegro and in the romance smooth attacks and deft swelling in short phrases was lovely. Second violin Serena Canin and violist Mischa Amory supported the themes projected by violinist Mark Steinberg in impeccable ensemble with no phrase overplayed and tempos that felt a perfect fit to the music. The performer played standing.

The central work of the program was Bartok’s Second Quartet from 1917, a work inspired by the composer’s travel as an ethnomusicologist in his native Hungary. The first moderato movement opens with the cello leading into dissonant and emotional themes, and the Brentano passed these around, sometimes evoking alienation and at other times shifting from gentle rocking to furious outbursts. There was pain and there was relief. The intensity of this music was sustained which drew from folk traditions, but it’s not folk music in the usual sense, but structural and rhythmic “peasant” music. The second movement (allegro motto capriccioso) was a festival of surging Hungarian dance rhythms. Mr. Steinberg led the wild frenzy which suddenly stops, is tentative, then evolves into a nostalgic waltz, then a gallop with motives from the first movement. The fast and clear passagework in all instruments was riveting and dramatic, especially a thick texture duo from Mr. Amory and cellist Nina Lee.

The third and final lento movement is unusual because traditionally last movements are lively. Here dissonances hover, answered by a sighing cello line and a sense of desolation conveyed by a sad descending violin part. Everywhere the sound had a yearning, looking backward character with wandering unisons, a lovely descending violin phrase from Ms. Canin, and “statements” by both violins that led to “answers” from the cello and viola. Mr. Steinberg’s high register playing had a reference to the Vaughan William’s “Lark Ascending,” and the thorny music an echo of Bartok’s contemporary Pfitzner.

After intermission came Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E flat Major, Opus 44, No. 3, the fifth of his six in the genre.. The allegro vivace is full of excitement, at times restrained, and other times exploding and soaring. Always there are echoes of Beethoven. Repeats were played differently and the knotty first violin part with fistfuls of notes and sixteenth-note passages up high was managed with aplomb by Mr. Steinberg. Clarity here could have been lost wth too much speed, but the Brentano played it admirably with a felicitous tempo. The echt scherzo had proper Mendelssohnian scurrying fantasy and the light attacks in the fugal section breathtaking. The three pizzicato notes at the end were perfectly shaped. The playing in the third movement evoked love in an ever changing form with delicate phrasing, perfect intonation and a planned sense of tentative character. One doesn’t see much inter-musician eye contact with the Brentano, and they are intensely focused on their scores. Key solo playing came from Mr. Amory.

Concluding this quartet and the afternoon’s music the playing of the molto allegro con fuoco soared and and always urged onward, with strong references to the composer’s second cello Sonata, Op. 49 Piano Trio and even the youthful Octet the same key. This is contented and happy music, built carefully in small climaxes. Mr. Steinberg was again the leader here with an agile bow arm, easily conquering the difficulty of playing three sixteenth notes down bow and a single sixteenth note up bow, all the while staying at the same place in the bow and and at a fast pace not making any accents the lone note. The performance had an inevitable quality, gracious and ordered.

Perhaps for some in the hall the playing lacked the big-boned projection of the local hero Parker and Alexander Quartets, but for most the ensemble and elegant musical blend was richly satisfying. A large ovation greeted the exuberant final chord, but there was no encore.

Daniel Greenhouse and Terry McNeill contributed to this review.