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SIX GUITARISTS IN UNIQUE NAPA RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The first Napa Valley Guitar Festival was held at Napa’s First Presbyterian Church July 25, and featured performances from six classical guitarists. The Church is an iconic structure in downtown Napa, its huge white presence dominating the scene, and the white theme continues inside punctuated by be
Chamber
CLARA SCHUMANN TRIO COMMANDS VOM CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERT AT HANNA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Series has begun several virtual and a few live concerts in its new seventh season, some broadcast from Sonoma’s Hanna Center Hall and some in posh local venues. July 24’s video had a small live audience and a well-produced video program of three works. Titled “
Chamber
EXEMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MENDO FESTIVAL FT. BRAGG CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Faced with the impossibility of presenting concerts in the iconic large white tent on the bluff, the Mendocino Music Festival opted to use Ft. Bragg’s Cotton Auditorium for ten events in the abbreviated 35th season. San Francisco’s Alexander String Quartet played July 21 to a fully masked audience
Chamber
ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING AT PIANOSONOMA CONCERT IN SCHROEDER HALL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
After a dark year bereft of live performance, pianoSonoma launched July 20 the first Vino & Vibrato concert of the 2021 season in Sonoma State's Schroeder Hall, albeit sadly senza vino due to Covid protocols. Three exceptional musicians showered the audience with an interesting variety of pia
Chamber
RARELY-PLAYED SCHUMANN HIGHLIGHTS HEALDSBURG RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 10, 2021
Brave New Music sporadically produces concerts in and around Healdsburg, and July 10’s violin recital in downtown St. Paul’s Church must have been one of the first post-lockdown, post-be-extra-careful classical music concerts in Sonoma County's summer season. New Music Founder Gary McLaughlin with
Chamber
ECHOS ON A WARM SUMMER NIGHT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, July 10, 2021
ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s first concert in a year and a half, “A Musical Promenade,” was a promenade indeed. When patrons arrived at San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for the 6:00 performance July 10, they were funneled through the garden to the Duncan Hall patio, where folding chairs were set
Chamber
LONG DISTANCE LOVE BEGINS VOM SUMMER FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Thursday, June 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival offered a 7th season preview June 24 with a stunning online concert, aptly named Long Distance Love, featuring inspired performances of Beethoven's short song cycle An die ferne Geliebte,, and selections from Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Wal
Recital
ROMERO'S ARTISTRY IN SLV RECITAL PROGRAMMING AND PERFORMANCE
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Gustavo Romero has been an admired visitor to North Bay stages, playing over a decade recitals at Dominican University, the Music at Oakmont concerts and at the Spring Lake Village Concert Series. He returned June 2 to SLV in a virtual recital, videoed from his home concert hall the University of N
RUBICON'S VIRTUAL CONCERT A MALANGE OF CONTRASTS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 16, 2021
The inaugural concert of a new Mendocino County chamber group is a reason for celebration, and the Rubicon Trio made the most of a mixed musical menu during a May16 virtual concert. Presented by the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra as the last in their “Salons with the Symphony” Series, the Rubicon began w
Recital
PIANO VIRTUOSITY IN YAKUSHEV'S REDWOOD ARTS RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev’s recital for the Redwood Arts Council was perhaps the local season’s virtual music at the greatest distance, as the filming May 16 came from a church in St. Petersburg. And good filming it was, with multiple camera viewpoints of the church, full and split screens and
CHAMBER REVIEW

Alexander String Quartet

THE ALEXANDER SQ AT LAST PLAYS OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, May 13, 2010

For nearly 25 years the Alexander String Quartet has been the preeminent chamber music group in Northern California, but despite many invitations they have never appeared on the popular Oakmont Concert Series season. Schedule conflicts with the SRJC Chamber Series and the Quartet’s far-flung travel commitments were finally overcome May 13 when the esteemed foursome appeared on the Berger Auditorium stage before 225 chamber music aficionados.

In a concert dedicated to the memory of Lore Kahane, a beloved Oakmont resident who died May 11, the Alexander was joined by Marin pianist June Choi Oh in a program that was both novel and routine. Mozart’s early Quartet in F major, K. 168, began the festivities, a four-movement work the congenial Alexander can play in their sleep. The opening Allegro was a model of suave interplay, the bucolic themes deftly passing between instruments. In the following Andante the mood became somber, but never plodding, with Sandy Wilson’s cello lines highlighting a threnody during long stretches of pianissimo. A quick Viennese dance characterized the Menuetto with bursts of color from first violin Zakarias Grafilo, and a quick fugue, light in texture, finished the work. The unison strings were perfectly together, the sound not large but carrying well and dying out to a whisper.

Perhaps the most popular piano quintet, Schumann’s work in E-Flat Major, Op. 44, closed the first half in fine style. The big second theme of the opening Allegro Brillante came richly in a duet from violist Paul Yarbrough and Mr. Wilson, though in this Schumann work from 1843 the strings often double the piano part or fill in with isolated phrases. Ms. Oh is a fluent pianist without being a very demanding collaborator, and the many repeats of the theme become almost tiresome. But it is a heavenly theme, constantly embellished in the cello part. In the march-like second movement there was an elegant “question and answer” motif incorporating different rhythms that was effectively played, albeit with a raspy tone from Mr. Yarbrough. Often the pizzicato sections reflected music on “tiptoe” but with consummate delicacy. The Scherzo was played with controlled recklessness and drew some audience applause at the powerful ending, just one movement short of completion. That finale, Allegro man non troppo, found the viola sound back in the mix and just the proper amount of majesty in the country dance section leading to the coda. It was a high-level performance in every way but lacking for me the final bit of energy and abandon. A polished Schumann but slightly underplayed.

Elgar’s three-movement A Minor Quintet, Op. 84, closed the afternoon and proved to be a tough work to get one’s arms around. It’s richly inventive and develops mostly in an inexorable Brahmsian way, with orchestral power in the opening Moderato–Allegro. It’s a work that on the whole contains many segments, with some commonality in the serene sections of the Moderato and the fetching Adagio. The Alexander drove the long first movement urgently, at times covering the piano part and making the most of unison sections and at the end a drawn out and tranquil diminuendo.

Rich romanticism pervaded the second movement, which the Quintet seemed to perceive as an homage (to British WW I dead? to the demise of the Edwardian era?). Their playing over many convoluted but deceptive cadences was captivating, the final release a wistful cessation of sound. Violinist Frederick Lifsitz's subtle discovery of inner voices in the movement was telling. The finale began with what sounded like a quote from the Moderato and moved into nervous animation and prismatic modulations. Ms. Oh’s fast running right-hand figures and sweeping arpeggios added sonic sparkle and the choral-like section was played by the entire group with careful control of the complex rhythms.

On balance, the Elgar was for me the afternoon’s most effective work, but in an odd way, as few could leave the hall humming tunes as with the Schumann Quintet. I suspect the Alexander and Ms. Oh lavished rehearsal time on this lush but intricate work, to a felicitous end.