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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
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.