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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
Recital
ECLECTIC PIANISM IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE VIRTUAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
During the pandemic The Santa Rosa Symphony’s virtual concerts received their due in performance praise, but another series, Spring Lake Village, more quietly presented monthly virtual concerts to a select local audience. May 5 saw the latest event, produced by impresario Robert Hayden, and feature...
Symphony
SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor...
Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
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...
RECITAL REVIEW
Cinnabar Theater / Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Lara Downes, piano

Pianist Lara Downes

AMERICAN MUSIC FEATURED IN DOWNES' CINNABAR RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pianist Lara Downes is a proselytizer, a woman on a mission to spread the gospel of American classical music of the early 20th century. Ms. Downes brought her musical discourse to Petaluma’s Historical Museum Sept. 8 in the penultimate concert of Cinnabar Theater’s Summer Music Festival.

Beginning with the popular Barber Excursions, Op. 20, from 1944, the pianist quickly fashioned was to come in the evening’s additional works – large-screen computer generated photos mixed with piano solos and deft introductory remarks. The Walker Evans-style photos didn’t always relate to the music at hand, and tended to be on the screen too long. The rhythmic drive of the opening un poco allegro had the alluring boogie woogie snap, as did the following syncopations of the slow blues. The fourth work, a square dance, was Coplandesque and the repeated right hand notes were well played. These are not subtle pieces with much tonal coloring, and needed the clangorous sound Ms. Downes provided.

Turning to Copland himself, the “Four Piano Blues” followed. This is sophisticated jazz, totally American, and the improvisatory first piece was freely poetic and featured telling pedal points. Less compelling pianistically was a languid and wandering reading of the second piece, but with lovely shimmering effects. Ms. Downes’ sensuous repeated arpeggios barely covered the inherent dissonances of the third, and the jazziest of the set (“With Bounce,” 1926) was a declamatory short dance, and riveting.

Florence Price’s music, with that of Margaret Bonds, is occasionally heard at festivals, and it was good to find Price’s “Fantasie Negre” on the program. A student of Chadwick, Converse and Sowerby, Price wrote the neo-romantic work (a revision from a concerted piece?) that had the long line, with a beguiling second section in a “question and answer” mode and a diffuse sound, often over pedaled by the pianist. But it’s that kind of work, far removed from the harmonies of the composer’s contemporaries. Ms. Downes reveled in the sweep of the Fantasie with the sound filling every corner of the wood-surfaced museum.

Two more works remained, the American Nocturne by the jazz and Broadway composer Dana Suesse (1909 – 1987), the Gershwin’s big “Rhapsody in Blue” in the solo piano version. The first is cocktail party music, but at a high level, and the second is a panoramic compilation of the American master’s richly-hued jazz themes. I do miss the clarinet’s trill/glissando in the original version but the energy Ms. Downes brought to the work finally won me over. Pianistically the scales passes were even but muddy and the lack of sections of real repose and ritards combined with full-throttle forte and rapid tempo playing became overly sonorous. The approach worked best at the beginning of the big modulatory sections where orchestral playing is needed.

The Gershwin is familiar territory and the vigor the pianist pursued brought loud cheers from the audience of 40. One encore was offered, a short Copland piece in a dreamy style, the cantabile captivating. It was the only work the artist played from score.