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Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
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.]