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Recital
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...
Symphony
BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 09, 2020
The Sunday, 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 ...
Symphony
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...
STRING QUINTETS, RARE AND FAMILIAR, IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, January 26, 2020
One hundred attendees in Schroeder Hall were treated Jan. 26 to a pair of stirring two-cello string quintets: Schubert’s much beloved masterpiece Quintet in C (D. 956), and Catoire’s Quintet in C minor (Op. 16), the latter mostly a forgotten work written in 1909. The performers were violinist Victo...
Chamber
MOSTLY MOZART WITH A LITTLE BEETHOVEN AND SOR IN NAPA
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 26, 2020
Sharing the stage with a local diva is a tough task for even seasoned musicians, but Napa College faculty soprano Christina Howell stole the show Jan. 26 when the Napa Valley Music Associates presented an eclectic program of mostly Mozart music. Somehow compositions of Sor and Beethoven joined the m...
Chamber
CHALLENGING WORKS IN GOULD TRIO'S MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 26, 2020
The Gould Piano Trio, founded 28 years ago by violinist Lucy Gould, has been one of the UK’s most prestigious ensembles. Its January 26 performance in Mill Valley Chamber Music Society’s series demonstrated how richly they deserve that reputation. The concert, held at the Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Chu...
Chamber
LOCAL MUSICIANS SHINE IN MTAC BENEFIT CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 25, 2020
After a fire-related postponement of four months, the Sonoma County Chapter of the Music Teachers Association of California Jan. 25 gave their annual scholarship benefit in a charming Sebastopol home. Showcasing local musicians in an intimate setting with two pianos, the first half highlights inclu...
Symphony
MOZART MASTERWORK HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 25, 2020
Excitement was palpable in the Marin Civic Center Auditorium Jan. 25 as the Marin Symphony in splendid full force took the stage for a richly textured Masterworks II program. Prevented from giving its first Masterworks offering by the wildfire-caused blackouts last October, the orchestra returned wi...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Monday, December 09, 2019
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor. Sonoma State University Symphonic Chorus; Shawnette Sulker, soprano; Laura Krumm, alto; Benjamin Brecher, tenor; Philip Skinner, bass

Francesco Lecce-Chong Dec. 9 in Weill Hall

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 within the orchestra instead of the choir loft, the choristers were fully integrated into the sonic texture, aided in no small part by their excellent diction and well-controlled dynamics.

Instead of the standard Sussmayer version of Mozart’s unfinished masterpiece, conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong chose a contemporary version by musicologist Robert Levin. The differences are mostly subtle, but Levin adds a fully embellished “Amen” fugue at the end of the “Lacrimosa” section and tinkers with the “Sanctus.” The tinkering works, but the new fugue sounds more Baroque than Mozartean.

Those quibbles aside, the performance was nearly transcendent, displaying Mozart’s genius and humanity at its most profound. Conducting without a score, Mr. Lecce-Chong displayed complete command of every measure, eliciting a crisp sound from the orchestra and expressive singing from the choir. The articulation from both players and singers was knife-edged, with every note and syllable distinct. The tempos were brisk and steady.

Standout moments included the “Dies Irae,” which took off like a rocket. The choir’s eyes were glued to the conductor rather than buried in their scores, and they reacted swiftly to his graceful cues. The subsequent “Tuba Mirum” moved at a similarly brisk pace and featured strong solos from bass Philip Skinner and trombonist Amy Bowers. The vocal quartet in the “Recordare” was fine, but the top three singers’ limits became evident over the course of the movement. Soprano Shawnette Sulker had too much vibrato and seemed preoccupied with her score; alto Laura Krumm had good tone but was drowned out; tenor Benjamin Brecher had a sweet sound, but his voice was often constricted. As in the “Tuba Mirum,” Mr. Skinner proved the most consistent.

Mr. Lecce-Chong took a long pause at the end of the new “Amen” section, perhaps to gather his forces for the majestic “Domine Jesu” and “Hostias,” which really cooked. Everyone on stage was swept up by the conductor’s relentless energy, as each gorgeous phrase flowed into the next. The momentum carried into the “Sanctus,” whose “Hosanna in excelsis” lines were downright rollicking. In the “Agnus Dei,” the choir showed off its precise articulation, enunciating “qui tollis peccata mundi” with clarion fervor. The final words of the Requiem—“et lux perpetua luceat eis” (let everlasting light shine upon them)—lived up to their double meaning, referring not only to the light of heaven, but also to Mozart’s eternal genius.

Genius of another kind inhabited the first half of the concert, which opened with a sparkling performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 39. Mr. Lecce-Chong conducted the reduced ensemble (strings, four horns, two oboes and bassoon) while standing before an elevated fortepiano, on which he interpolated occasional unscored continuo parts. The fortepiano was mostly inaudible, but it did rise to the occasion when the strings played pianissimo.

Haydn’s symphony is a real gem, as deserving of respect as his later efforts. The orchestra opens very quietly, with pregnant, jokey rests between phrases. Despite the quietude, the ensemble bristled with energy that carried over into the later, louder sections. The Andante second movement was spare, elegant and courtly, with bows in perfect sync. A unified, reverberant sound from the strings dominated the Minuet and continued in the dramatic Allegro di molto finale, where the players spun off a series of exemplary runs at a furious pace.

Furious pacing was nowhere in evidence in the next work, “Records from a Vanishing City,” by contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery. In his introduction, Mr. Lecce-Chong said the piece “creates a sense of place” by recreating the “white noise” the composer heard while growing up in the lower east side of Manhattan. The conductor's description turned out to be accurate, but unfortunately the piece never went beyond atmospherics.

Ms. Montgomery is clearly skilled at orchestration, and the density of her sound is remarkable. Nonetheless, her basic modus operandi is to place solos atop a constantly shifting cloud of sound. The results were often beautiful, but the piece never went anywhere, and development was hard to detect.

Reprinted by permission from San Francisco Classical Voice