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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’...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Nicki Bell and Leslie Gardner After Playing Ravel's "La Valse"

SIX PEDALS AND 176 KEYS

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Concerts featuring two pianos have been on the upswing in Sonoma County, due mainly to the work of the Twenty Fingers Club, a group of well-trained amateurs devoted to conventional and arcane repertoire for 176 keys and six pedals. Club members don’t perform as often as they would like, as two-piano venues are rare.

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts solved the venue problem with a February Two-Piano Festival, bringing in a second instrument for five concerts and a gaggle of performers – 24 in all. Due to schedule conflicts, I was only able to attend the final event, an afternoon recital Feb. 24 by resident Sebastopol pianists Nicki Bell and Leslie Gardner. Twenty-five rapt listeners found the eclectic program of Piazzola, Brubeck and Ravel a change from the usual Mozart and Rachmaninoff two-piano works.

Astor Piazzola’s tangos are popular these days, and one hears the Libertango and Infinity everywhere as encores. The Bell-Gardner duo chose six less performed tangos, composed from 1968 to 1988. Beginning with the mysterious Michelangelo 70, the set unfolded with snippets of dreamy and languid themes, some works akin to bad film music and peppered with raucous repeated dissonances. I found the contrapuntal lines and sharp contrasts of the Fuga y misterio the most convincing, along with the lyrical and somber fifth work, Soledad. Some of this music is sectional and plodding, with the pianists making every effort to keep together with too many score pages to turn quickly. Nonetheless, instrumental balance was excellent.

Dave Brubeck’s “Points on Jazz” ballet suite followed. Rather than a transcription, this piece was originally written for two pianos, and its six movements form distinct character pieces in Brubeck’s inimitable style. The syncopated modes quickly became the benchmark of the work. The opening Prelude was light-hearted, the following Scherzo up-tempo and bluesy. Bell’s ardent pianism was apparent in the torch-song slow Blues, ending with a brassy piano line from Gardner and 11 (were there that many?) insistent mezzo forte chords. The pianists were equally effective in a clamorous fugue with husky chords unfolding over an ostinato bass. A Tin-Pan Alley Rag with deliciously interwoven pop tunes led to a final Chorale. Here the performers were sometimes not together, even though the tempos was slow. The contrary motion ending, played beautifully, lifted the theme quietly into the ethos and resounding applause from the crowd.

Ravel’s masterful La Valse concluded the concert, and it seemed a work in progress for the performers. It’s a virtuoso handful with swirling waltz rhythms and insinuating rhythmic patterns leading to a powerful close, depicting the demise of the classic Viennese waltz era. The playing was muddy, the phrases tentative rather than ringing, the orchestral ending lacking impact. All through the recital the lack of vocal line clarity, due in part to the less-than-professional instruments and the room acoustics, hindered the music’s transparency.

The Bell-Gardner duo played with ardor and focus, a fitting end to a festival of unfamiliar music and congenial performers.