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Recital
HOME RECITAL BACH COMPLETES HOLIDAY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The just closing 2017 year was a calamity for many, but locally in music there were joys galore, and it was fitting Dec. 30 have the balm of two Bach’s violin sonatas in a private Guerneville home recital hosted by the eminent musician Sonia Tubridy. Violinist Richard Heinberg joined Ms. Tubridy in...
Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, February 21, 2009
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, guest artist, piano

Garrick Ohlsson, guest soloist, piano

SHIFTING THE CENTER OF ATTENTION

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Symphony programs often resemble three-ring circuses, organized in time rather than space. In the first ring, the symphony offers an overture or similar fare to whet your aural appetite. Then, in the center ring, comes the main attraction, usually a soloist displaying his chops in a concerto or other showpiece. The final ring is reserved for a symphony or other lengthy work that exhibits the orchestra in its full glory.

The Santa Rosa Symphony’s program on Feb. 21 at the Wells Fargo Center hewed to the familiar scheme, except that the soloist, Bay Area pianist Garrick Ohlsson, played on both sides of intermission, first in Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück, then in Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the gardens of Spain). The former displayed Ohlsson’s staggering technical prowess to full effect, the latter offering more opportunities for musicality.

On this program, though, the outer rings eclipsed the ostensible star attraction. This was less a function of the performances than of the music at hand: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured night) at one end of the program, Debussy’s Nocturnes at the other. When all was played and done, Schoenberg and Debussy put Weber and Falla in the shade.

Not that there’s anything much wrong with either of the concertante works, at least in the hands of Garrick Ohlsson. In the Weber he was commanding from the beginning, playing the opening phrase with as much space between the notes as forward momentum would allow. Every note was discrete, every tone fully resonant. Then came the full attack, marked by intense crescendos and accelerandos and devastating trills.

Throughout all his digital fireworks, Ohlsson sat imperturbable on the piano stool, his upper body planted like a tree trunk as his hands raced across the keyboard. He stared straight forward, occasionally looking down at the keys to make sure his fingers were still attached. He played impossibly fast, often interweaving his hands to dramatic effect. When he was done, the audience erupted in sustained applause.

It was thrilling playing, but the Konzertstück itself is little more than a standard-issue showpiece, patching together one motive after another to display the soloist’s prestidigitations. The rarely performed Falla promised a little more musical meat.

The first “night,” “En el Generalife” (In the Generalife), was somewhat skeletal, with lots of French Impressionist tremolos from the strings and many hand crossings from Ohlsson. Flesh began appearing on the bones in the second “night,” “Danza lejana” (Distant dance). The music turned more Spanish, with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis provoking some fiery tempos from the orchestra and Ohlsson matching them stride for stride. Sadly, the third “night,” “En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba” (In the gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba) with its hints of flamenco, didn’t seem to gel, either in composition or in performance.

The uncertain air of the Falla stood in contrast to the confident personalities of Schoenberg, whose Verklärte Nacht began the program, and Debussy, whose Nocturnes brought it to a magical close. The two pieces, both completed in 1899, are similar not only in their nocturnal subjects, but also in their emotional intensity and musical innovation.

Verklärte Nacht, originally for string sextet, was performed in the composer’s string-orchestra version, which adds basses, splits the various string sections, and frequently alternates between first-chair solos and full ensemble. The additional players make the work even lusher and more romantic than its erotically charged original, but often at the expense of clarity. Although Ferrandis pushed the rhythms and brought out some of the main themes, the orchestra was occasionally muddy. Nonetheless, the performance was heartfelt and emotional, nowhere more so than in a passage near the end where different players began arpeggiating over open strings. The effect of this clear sound after so much dense and often muted texture was liberating, even joyful.

Those same emotions were also at play in the Debussy Nocturnes. From the haunting opening for English horn, beautifully played by one of the symphony’s many unidentified freelancers, the piece transports its listeners to another world. Ferrandis exerted such control over the dynamics in this opening movement, “Nuages” (Clouds), that the entire auditorium was at times enveloped in silence.

The silence found its counterpart in the second nocturne, “Fêtes” (Festivals), which Ferrandis moved along briskly, with precise motions and fastidious attention to orchestral detail. The third and final Nocturne, “Sirènes” (Sirens), featured female voices from the symphony’s choir, blending seamlessly with the orchestra to evoke Debussy’s vision of temptation and longing.

The program ended as it had begun, on the outer rings. Somehow the center of attention had drifted to the edges.

[This article first appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice (www.sfcv.org), and is used by permission.]