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Chamber
BEETHOVEN FEATURED IN SF TRIO'S OCCIDENTAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Conventional repertoire in uncommonly good performances highlighted the San Francisco Piano Trio’s Jan. 19 concert in the Occidental Center for the Arts. Haydn’s No. 44 Trio (Hob. XV:28) came from late in his long career, when he was in and out of London, and received a sparkling reading that featu...
SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close bu...
Choral and Vocal
ORPHEUS OF AMSTERDAM'S MUSIC IN SCHROEDER ORGAN CHORAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, January 10, 2020
“All over the map.” Sonoma Bach, directed by Bob Worth, has taken its audiences this season on journeys through many centuries and many lands. The programming is fresh and intriguing and the performers varied and creators of beauty and interest. The January 10 program was centered on organ works by...
Choral and Vocal
OLD NORTH GERMAN CAROLS IN SONOMA BACH'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, December 15, 2019
“Cast off all sorrows…also dance in heavenly fashion.” A volume called Piae Cantiones was printed in 1582 in North Germany, lively songs going back to the 14th century, and this treasure trove provided material for numerous composers to arrange Christmas carols over following generations, from simp...
Symphony
EVERLASTING LIGHT AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 09, 2019
The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night. The soloists were good, but the choir was superb. Located wi...
Symphony
UNFINISHED AND FINNISH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 08, 2019
Having a new resident conductor on the podium for the Ukiah Symphony was an attractive invitation for a long-delayed visit to Mendocino College’s Center Theater Dec. 8. The insouciant Les Pfutzenreuter recently retired after decades of conducting the ensemble, replaced by Phillip Lenberg who also j...
Choral and Vocal
PRAERTORIUS IN RENAISSANCE GLORY FROM SONOMA BACH
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Sonoma Bach Choir, in collaboration with Barefoot All-Stars Viol Consort and The Whole Noyse Brass Ensemble, presented “Sing Glorious Praetorius!” November 16 to an almost full Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. The Soloists were soprano Dianna Morgan, Christopher Fritzsche, (countertenor), m...
Symphony
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL EXCITEMENT IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Beginning with a scintillating reading of Rossini’s Overture to the Opera “Semiramide,” the Sonoma County Philharmonic performed a splendid program Nov. 16 in the Jackson Theater, and featured two additional works, one showcasing the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Young Artist Award. It...
Chamber
SPIRITUAL LATE BEETHOVEN QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, called “unparalleled in its inexhaustibility” by critic Thomas May, is a daunting challenge. Orchestral in concept, filled with wit and charm, melancholy and fury, it almost overwhelms listeners. Playing the frenetic Scherzo, a viol...
Symphony
MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 04, 2019
It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here. The evening began with...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Mill Valley Chamber Music Society / Sunday, March 24, 2019
Fauré Quartet. Dirk Mommertz, piano; Erika Geldsetzer, violin; Sascha Frömbling, viola; Konstantin Heidrich, cello

Fauré Quartett at Mill Valley March 24 (A. Wasserman Photo)

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, performed by the Fauré Quartett from Germany in Mill Valley Chamber Music Society’s season closer at the Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church.

The Fauré (Dirk Mommertz, piano; Erika Geldsetzer, violin; Sascha Frömbling, viola; and cellist Konstantin Heidrich) presented penetrating readings of works by Mahler, Fauré and Brahms (plus a tantalizing quasi orchestral encore). They opened with Mahler’s one-movement Quartettsatz in A Major, composed in 1876 when he was sixteen. It is elegiac and passionate, and this was a particularly nuanced reading that despite the repetition of its motifs and themes, was never boring. Mahler apparently didn’t think much of it, and after his death it was discovered under a stack of papers by his widow Alma. He may have intended it to be the first movement of a larger work but that never happened, and no other chamber ensemble work by Mahler survives. The quartet was not performed publicly until 1964.

Beginning with a brief spare, thoughtful piano introduction, the strings joined and soon the piano introduced repeating triad chords in the right hand as the left played a somber bass melody; this would be repeated further on. There were many mood and tempi changes as the main theme was explored. The music moved through turbulent emotions, and seemed at times like an obsessive meditation on life and death, with passion and tenderness. Ms. Geldsetzer’s playing showed an astonishing range, summoning multiple shades and many voices. Mr. Frömbling’s viola sang brilliantly, and Mr. Mommertz’s virtuosic pianism was at turns sweet and thunderous. Throughout the work Mr. Heidrich’s cello grounded the interpretation with a golden sonority. The audience was silent when it ended, waiting for the musicians’ bows and hands to be lowered, then breaking into appreciative applause. It was hard at that moment to imagine a more nuanced or heartrending reading of the piece.

Fauré was celebrated during his lifetime but little appreciated outside of his native France, and international recognition came later. The Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15, was first performed in 1879, though the last movement was revised in 1883. It was written straddling highs and lows in his life. The first movement, (allegro motto moderato) is like a happy conversation among the four instruments. The melody wanders blithely, sometimes with a distinct Ravel-like air, and ends gently. The allegro vivo scherzo has exciting pizzicato sections while the piano line leaps and gambols and takes thematic precedent. There are short spurts of close harmony in the strings while the piano leads a merry chase. The third movement adagio reflected the sorrow of Fauré’s broken engagement, with sighs and wistful recollections of happiness now lost. Toward the end, the piano phrases wandered up and down in this landscape of loss, then finally found strength and resolve, and the movement ended philosophically. The last movement (allegro molto) was taken at a brisk tempo, with dazzling scale passages by Mr. Mommertz. The piece resolved finally in the key of C Major. At the conclusion the audience, which nearly filled the hall, stood in excited ovation.

The very first performance in 1861 of Brahms’ G Minor Piano Quartet, Op. 25, featured pianist Clara Schumann. It is a profound work with a royal feeling, simultaneously complex and transparent. The composer Arnold Schoenberg orchestrated the piece in 1937, and his impulse to do so is understandable, since it is orchestral in nature, with thrilling blends that evoke a much larger ensemble. In the allegro first movement the piano playing was incandescent, the string sound translucent, and all were woven tightly together with insistent pulse and beautiful unison playing. The intermezzo/allegro, ma non troppo/trio/Animato often changes moods and tempi and at times hangs on the edge of dissonance. A sense of urgency prevailed as drama built and climaxed in animated piano arpeggios.

The third movement, andante con moto, was almost painful in its longing. The Fauré’s musicians seemed to live each moment with utmost feeling, their bodies and Ms. Geldsetzer’s face expressing each emotion. The section turned military, with a march and the evocation of drums, out of which the violin seemed to sing of life continuing, its rich voice rising above the other performers. The rondo fourth movement was played as an earthy gypsy celebration, Hungarian in sound, with much rubato and a vehement and joyful ensemble. The strings played unison pizzicatos while the piano part featured a cascade of notes. There was a section of waltz, perhaps bringing to mind Vienna where Brahms was living. The players seemed to be having fun with this exciting masterpiece.

When the last notes died away, the audience again rose as one to give an enthusiastic standing ovation that moved the musicians to sit again to play Mr. Mommertz’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” from his piano work Pictures at an Exhibition. It was a grand finale encore.