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Chamber
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 08, 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...
Choral and Vocal
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...
Chamber
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...
Chamber
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...
Chamber
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 09, 2020
The Feb. 9 performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st century music firmly bound to the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire”—based on a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the 1820s—emp...
FRENCH ORCHESTRAL MUSIC A FIRST FOR THE SO CO PHILHARMONIC
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 02, 2020
Over many years the Sonoma County Philharmonic has played little French music, but perhaps this oversight was corrected Feb. 2 in a splendid all-Gallic program Feb. 1 and 2 in the Jackson Theater. Classical Sonoma reviewed the Sunday afternoon concert. In his eighth conducting season with the So C...
Symphony
POLISH MUSICAL WORLDS GLOW BRIGHT IN NFM WROCLAW WEILL PERFORMANCE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, February 01, 2020
The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, gave a concert of enormous energy and emotional impact on Feb.1 to a small audience in Weill Hall. This orchestra has been a major cultural force in Poland since 1949, playing under many renowned conductors and has been committed to pr...
Opera
EXTRAVAGANT ARIAS IN NEXT GENERATION TENORS GALA VALLEJO CONCERT
by Mark Kratz
Saturday, February 01, 2020
“Beautiful, strange, and unnatural…” said orchestra conductor Thomas Conlin when speaking of the tenor voice. One of the coveted voice types of the opera world, the tenor voice is known for it’s piercing tones and soaring, unnatural high notes. The iconic image of the Pagliacci clown (in the famed...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, October 13, 2019
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble

Academy of St. Martins in the Field Chamber Ensemble

OLD COMPOSERS INSPIRE A NEW OCTET AND RAVISHING PLAYING IN WEILL HALL CONCERT

by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble brought a program of provocative interest and beauty to Weill Hall October 13, giving an audience of 800 a musical afternoon to cherish. This ensemble draws musicians from the renowned chamber orchestra founded in London by Sir Neville Marriner in 1958 and currently led by virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. It includes members from the orchestra’s principal players and is play-directed by violinist Tomo Keller. The program included a newly composed Octet and two beloved Romantic compositions by Brahms and Mendelssohn. 

Sally Beamish, a former Academy member, composed “Partita” for String Octet in 2019. It is inspired by Bach’s solo violin partitas and pays tribute to Handel and Mendelssohn as well as Bach. In some sense the whole program referenced Bach’s greatness and unequaled genius. The composer appeared on stage with the ensemble and gave an informative introduction and description of how she structured the movements of her partita. She explained that the tradition of a partita for a solo instrument worked for the string octet because such a group could “be seen as a single entity, almost like a bowed keyboard, as well as being an ensemble of soloists.”

The prelude first movement takes a five note fragment of Bach’s D minor violin sonata and weaves it throughout in polyphonic style. At first it is quietly mysterious, then gradually more agitated and complex until the instruments, having tossed fragments around, unite on a single note with tremolos. It was effective and intriguing.The fugue second movement is in eight parts and borrows, from Handel’s Oratorio Messiah, the motive “and he shall reign for ever and ever”. Mendelssohn used the same Handel motive, so Ms. Beamish pays tribute to Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn all together! This fugue starts in a high string range, continues into lush and lyrical harmonies and ends ethereally. The last movement is a Chaconne, eight variations with each player having a turn at being a soloist. The musical ideas borrow from Mendelssohn’s famous wedding march music, much disguised, with the instruments interacting energetically. Sometimes a little jazz energy is added into the mix. This composition, dedicated to the composer’s husband, was beautifully suited to the ensemble that commissioned it. Their playing was spirited and sensitive.

Next was Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2 in G, Op. 36. The opening Allegro non troppo juxtaposes wide open soundscapes with tight chromatic shifts. The musical figures evoke creation in all its splendor and mystery. Always present is the theme of separation and joining together, a natural flow of ecstatic virtuosity and intimate inner voices in duos, trios, and quartets. The rich varieties of tonal color were beautifully conveyed by this ensemble, sometimes sounding eerily like a pipe organ. The scherzo second movement is graceful and contains a raucous trio. The tender opening was played with great clarity, sighing and longing. The intricate rhythm patterns were clear and unforced, the brilliant playing by Mr. Keller swirled into a frenzy and then back to the darker colors.

The adagio movement was a set of variations, contemplative and introspective, often providing rich and vibrant pizzicato underpinning to soaring phrases. The final movement (poco allegro) was joyful. It drew upon the vivacious bubbling joy that Brahms often brought to his major key music. The fugal section initiated by the violinist Jennifer Godson was upbeat and featured Hungarian rhythms. This Brahms sextet is one of the treasures of the repertoire and was played with many nuances and layers of musical elegance.

The audience returned from intermission for the much-loved Mendelssohn E-Flat Major Octet, Op. 20, a remarkable piece composed at the age of sixteen. Youthful excitement permeates this octet which has the variety of chamber music and orchestral music in coexistence. The allegro moderato ma con fuoco was full of excitement, optimism and moving from sorrow into joy. The string intonation was accurate and inner instrumental rhythms were intricate and convincing. The concerto-like first violin part led by Mr. Keller was expressive and at times dazzling. The andante was played with delicacy and many subtle shadings, and full of endearing playfulness.

The scherzo brought us Mendelssohn’s signature of dancing spirits - quiet, quick and clear, with the power of string pianissimo. The playing was full of humor, and sporadically chuckles were heard from the audience. The final exuberant (presto) movement was riveting in its speed, precision, and drama, and sometimes melodramatic power.

The concert had been postponed for two years because of the 2017 fires and therefore seemed all the more poignant. At the conclusion the audience gave the performers a long and appreciative ovation. 

Nicki Bell contributed to this review.