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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...
RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Friday, February 08, 2019
Joshua Bell, violin; Sam Haywood, piano

Joshua Bell (l) and Sam Haywood Feb. 8 in Weill Hall (Brennan Spark Photography)

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 technique, precise intonation and powerful thematic projection. An easy rapport between the two was a joy to hear and observe.

Beethoven’s enigmatic fourth Sonata 4 in A minor, Op. 23, opened the program. The intense first movement, presto, launches into a gallopy dialogue from which thematic poignancy emerged with a sense of fleeting beauty. Beethoven began the sonata in 1801 when his hearing was deteriorating, and his anxiety at the time likely made its way into the work. Mr. Bell did not emphasize the sadness implicit in the first movement but let the character of the minor mode, in which most of the movement is written, predominate.

In the following andante scherzo, piu allegretto, brief fragmentary declarations moved back and forth between piano and violin, and a fugue section resolved effectively in trills from both instruments. In the concluding third movement, the instrumental voices sang an allegro molto operatic duet with the music’s lyrical longing undercut by ominous rumbling. The three-note ascending figurations in the Sonata seemed to question whether to go forward or give up, but the spritely motive from the first movement returned, and all was resolved suddenly and quietly. An impressive and intriguing reading.

Prokofiev wrote his stunning D Major Flute Sonata in 1942, and Soviet violinist David Oistrakh suggested the composer recast it for his instrument, giving it the opus number 94a. As performed here it was a revelation. The first of four movements (moderato) is characterized by transcendent leaps and slides and insistent rhythms, with the theme repeated in different registers and reinvented countless times, but the score also contains a certain claustrophobic feeling.

In the second scherzo, presto a wild dance ensues, leading toward a lyrical section where the violin part mimes bird trills and calls. Spring and rebirth are suggested in the music, with an undertone of unease, and the performer’s flying fingers brought the Sonata to an exciting close, inspiring some of the audience to break into applause. The artists paused until the enthusiasm abated, then proceeded to the sonata’s romantic andante in which the opening theme is reiterated with exotic harmonies and figurations characteristic of the composer. The Sonata’s finale was thrilling, with Sisyphean ascents and precipitous violin downslides. Both the last two movements are fashioned classically and emotionally “cool,” and the work ended quietly, as though with philosophical resignation.

Following intermission the artists returned to perform Grieg’s Sonata No. 2, Op. 13, a work from 1867 that isn’t played as much as the C Minor Op. 45 piece written 20 years later. The first lento doloroso movement initially reflected a dirge that settled into something quite cheerful as a mini-cadenza in the violin part stated the theme and broke into a Norwegian folk dance. Mr. Bell’s bow exhibited a light touch that underscored the music’s joy with leaps and hops of phrasing. In the second movement the violinist’s interpretation showcased quick emotional changes, and his playing in the closing allegro animato featured piquant pizzicatos, dark tonal colors and deft phrases that built momentum to a thrilling conclusion.

The audience erupted in applause. After three curtain calls, Mr. Bell addressed the audience, kindly inquiring about the condition of a patron who had fainted and been taken out during the Beethoven. He then continued that he and Mr. Haywood would finish with three short encore works, and proceeded to Clara Schumann’s Romance, Op. 22, No. 1, which he played with poignant grace and heart-stirring warmth, blending beautifully with Mr. Haywood’s soft arpeggio chords and elegant phrasing.

Joachim’s arrangement of the Brahms first Hungarian Dance came next, and here the violinist gave way to his gypsy soul, playing with dramatic verve and convincing rubato. The last encore was Wieniawski’s Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16, a show-stopper work that was played at turns playfully and fast, with lyrical interludes, and always with brilliant technique. Mr. Bell told the audience that he had recently returned to it after many years. It had been part of his first youthful recital decades ago.