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Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 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...
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...
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 REVIEW

Gould Trio with Clarinetist Robert Plane Jan. 26 (A. Wasserman Photo)

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 Church, featured three demanding works, all of which were stunningly performed.

Members of the Trio: Lucy Gould, violin; Benjamin Frith, piano; and cellist Richard Lester, with clarinetist Robert Plane, first spoke from the stage about the challenges inherent in planning a program, quoting Fritz Kreisler’s advice: “First you play what you want the audience to hear, then you play what the audience wants to hear,” then played the rarely-heard Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A Minor, Op. 40, by Carl Frühling (1868-1937). Recently rediscovered after lying unplayed for many decades, this lovely work was given a moving reading by Messrs. Plane, Lester, and Frith.

Frühling’s personal story illustrates how political and social upheaval can abort a brilliant career. Although few details are known, Frühling, a Jew from Lemberg, Galicia (now Lvov, Ukraine), lived most of his life in Vienna and was sucked under during that city’s virulent anti-Semitic wave. He survived only to die in obscurity and poverty a year before the deportations began in earnest. His music went underground but this Trio survived, as well as a companion version he wrote for violin, cello and piano and a handful of other works, now attracting attention from musicians.

The Clarinet Trio is suffused with warmth and charm, and was enthusiastically welcomed by the Mill Valley audience. Its initial movement, Mässig schnell (Allegro moderato), began with a lovely clarinet and piano duo that ascended and descended in curlicues of sound. It carried an undercurrent of sadness, yet when all three instruments were playing, was inexpressibly lush. The second movement, Anmütig bewegt (Grazioso), incorporated two dances in three-quarter time, the elegant Viennese waltz and exuberant Ländler country dance. The Gould’s sensitive playing in the Andante third movement evoked a mourning procession, with musical mourners sharing reminiscences, three together, then two; finally, the clarinet poignantly alone. The fourth movement, Allegro Vivace, thrilled with shifting tempos, complex rhythms and a vigorous conclusion. Instrumental balances created clarity for each instrument even in complicated ensemble. This clarinet trio has substantial worth.

Ms. Gould joined her colleagues to perform “Four Fables” by Welsh composer Huw Watkins, a co-commissioned work for violin, cello, piano and clarinet. By way of verbal introduction, Mr. Lester joked that commissioning a work doesn’t necessarily mean it will be enjoyable to play, but this one, he nodded, is. They have performed it a dozen times since it was completed in 2018. The four movements are not based on any known fables or fairy tales (the difference between a fairy tale and fable is slight: fables contain a moral lesson). Rather, the composer has said his inspiration came from Robert Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen (fairy tale narrations), which also refer to no text. The musicians and listeners, therefore, can summon their own stories.

The four parts, played in sequence with pause between, are sonically related to one another. They are mysterious, full of imagination and brightly colored. Their connection to one another is enhanced by similar tempo and pace, and three are marked Lento.

In each, Mr. Frith played with much damper pedal so that each line shimmered into the next, creating an atmosphere of ambiguity and mystery. Ms. Gould’s violin in its purity and delicacy rivaled bird song, and Mr. Frith’s cello lines were dark and burnished. Throughout, Mr. Plane’s clarinet line sang eloquently, and the piece’s harmonic structure was often unusual and always beautiful. Each movement evoked further advancement into a mysterious territory. Low pizzicatos underpinned sparkling jumps in the clarinet and piano parts. In the Allegro second movement there was an instrumental chase that was almost palpable, then a musical slowing, with a dawning realization that one might be lost in deep woods. In movement three the clarinet line mounted thrilling arpeggios over sustained cello lines, and somehow this suggested (getting into the spirit) that the hero of this amorphous tale was being tested for bravery. A repetitive flutter from the piano line could have been a quickened pulse or the flight of a butterfly. Deep in the spell of the fourth movement the piece ended abruptly, without a resolution, as though suggesting that the journey is never over.

After a short intermission the musicians returned to play Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3 in F-minor, Op. 65. Dvořák usually worked quickly, but he took his time writing these four movements, and they are complicated, with quick changes in pace and dynamics. Only the third movement has a single tempo indication, (Poco adagio), while the others are rife with rapid changes in pace. Such quick phrases and tempos challenge an ensemble, but the Gould players handled them with élan, although occasionally the cello’s sound was covered by the piano. The entire work is a wealth of mercury-swift alterations of rhythms, moods and feelings, with mournful singing of the cello part in the third movement and the glorious melodies from Ms. Gould’s violin all wonderfully matched by Mr. Frith’s glimmering pianistic touch. Each musician played with intense focus and virtuoso technique to create a magical sonic experience.

It was a rousing performance, nuanced and also bold. As the final notes faded, the audience stood to applaud with loud appreciation.