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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
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.