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Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
RECITAL REVIEW

Marilyn Thompson (l) and Carol Menke Feb. 23 in Schroeder Hall

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 this bleak landscape is the wonderful Carol Menke, and with pianist Marilyn Thompson the soprano gave a splendid recital Feb. 23 in Schroeder Hall.

Ms. Menke, constantly active with performing, teaching and multiple chorus direction, offered a tour of 24 art songs in four languages, beginning with three songs on the text “Weep You No More” by Dowland, Quilter and Robert Sheldon. All were charmingly sung, especially the pensive and eerie Dowland. Floated and rhapsodic top notes characterized the Quilter, and Ms. Thompson’s rippling arpeggios the Sheldon version. The audience clapped between each, an irritating intrusion that would last the entire recital.

Preceding three Schumann songs the soprano offered comments on the afternoon’s composers in her usual charming and self-effacing way, and the initial Schumann song (“Die Blume der Ergebung”) was immediately was familiar aural territory. It was a richly colored song, as was the warmth and yearning of “Meine Rose” with Ms. Menke’s fluent modulations and Ms. Thompson’s lovely postlude. The more familiar “Lied der Suleika” completed the set with the singer choosing a judicious tempo and conveying veiled happiness.

Ms. Menke is a consummate Fauré interpreter, and “En Sourdine,” Op. 58, the “Vocalise” from 1906, and the early “La Rose” (1890) displayed her mastery. The singing of each was focused, rhapsodic and sensual, with often the piano parts proving that the composer was “old arpeggio.” The “Vocalise” was sung with wordless melismatic E Minor leaps and filigree, and the final song, a tribute to a rose, had more bass sound the piano and for a moment covered the vocal line. That’s not usual for Ms. Menke’s singing, as her voice can tend to be powerfully operatic in art song, especially with Schroeder Hall’s acoustics and today being only a third full. Diva Margaret Price’s lieder singing made the same effect on me, too potent for the humble song.

San Francisco composer Robert Sheldon’s four songs closed the first half, and the duo has recorded several of them. Ms. Thompson, a friend of the composer that died in 1995, cordially mentioned several aspects of Sheldon’s life, and proceeded with Ms. Menke to perform “Memory, Hither Come,” “Cool Is the Valley Now,” “Marsh Cry” and “My Woman Says.” The musical atmosphere was sharply different from the beguiling French diction of Fauré, and the highlight was the dark “Marsh Cry.” Here the voice and piano were often far apart, the harmonies intriguing and Ms. Menke’s voice and interpretation bordered on shrillness. Singing in the finale was bright and gay, briskly moving along and shedding some of the previous melancholy.

Acoustical clarity was improved by moving close to the stage for the second half, that began with Turina’s Poeme Forma de Canciones,” Op. 19, and the piano solo of the initial “Dedicatoria” was omitted. The singer only sporadically looked at the score in this impressionistic music that first sounded uniquely Spanish in the swirling “Cantares” with its up and down jumps and high forte ending note. The bucolic “Los Dos Miedos” had a shimmering and complicated sound, with hints of Granados and even Chopin. The up-tempo “Las Locas Por Amor” had an optimistic contrast of voice and piano lines, reminiscent of Chabrier, and an exalted character.

Four of Copland’s “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson” were each individual and in ways inspiring, as the great poet’s creations were. “Nature, My Gentlest Mother” was sung with the character of the composer’s folk themes of the 1930s and 40s, with a strong chest voice and a call and response with the piano. “The World Feels Dusty” ended in mysterious shades of gray, and Ms. Menke played off the quiet dissonances in the slow “Heart, We Will Forget Him.” Exquisite singing was heard in the “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven,” the poem unfolding with surprises and a long top note at the end. Applause was fulsome.

Powerful singing came in the closing three Strauss works, and Ms. Menke remarked that she had known the pensive “Morgen” (Op. 27, No. 4) since youth but this was her first public performance of the 1894 composition. The long piano prelude led to a glorious and autumnal ambiance, nothing rushed. In the “Wiegenlied” the singer’s control of small changes in volume was flawless and also operatic, and the closing popular “Ständchen” (Serenade, Op. 17) had all the probity of the Dickinson songs with much more warmth and passion.

No encore was offered.