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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...
CHAMBER REVIEW

The Stauffer Duo

STAUFFER DUO LAUNCHES SRJC SEASON WITH GENTLE CHARM

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Old friends returned Sept. 19 as the Stauffer Duo, long associated with the Santa Rosa Junior College Chamber Series, return for their 30th anniversary recital in Newman Auditorium. It was the first of the season’s six concerts, with a lively 177 in attendance and the anticipation of a challenging program including two modern works and some solo pianism from a mostly unknown composer.

Currently emeritus professors at San Diego State University, cellist Thomas Stauffer and pianist Cynthia Darby have strong ties to the North Bay, as Mr. Stauffer was for many years with the Santa Rosa Symphony and Ms. Darby was born in Ukiah, studying with local teachers prior to matriculating to Boston.

Mr. Stauffer’s cello playing is studied and professional but difficult for a listener to easily approach. This was initially evident in the opening work, Beethoven’s G Minor Sonata, Op. 5, No. 2. The performance was suave with fastidious attention to detail, the bowing often on open strings and understated in the long introductory section. The piano frequently covered the string line, making the cellist visible but not audible. But Beethoven wrote a virtuoso part for himself in the 1796 work, and more is frequently happening in the accompaniment than with the cello. The mixture of quick turns in the piano part in Rondo Allegro brought the composer’s humor to the forefront, the Duo’s attention to small effects telling.

Joan Tower’s slower than slow Tres Lent spotlighted Mr. Stauffer’s varied vibrato technique, and his ability to make the subtlety of pitch alteration grow and diminish. This is a work of lament, episodic for the cello with deft downward phrasing and small portimenti. I found it quite moving.

The first half ended with three rare solo piano works by Séverac, a composer that I don’t recall ever listed on a piano recital program. The inspiration was from the composer’s native Languedoc region of France, now known for its bourgeois wines but in the early 1900s a bucolic area of wild nature. Ms. Darby brought these outdoor sounds quickly to bear with elegant pianism. These pieces are not easily known, as each begins in a wandering way and following many lovely side ventures arrives at shimmering endings, soft arpeggios fading into treble-area iridescence. In their way and with Ms. Darby’s artistic fingers (and feet) they were captivating, but not altogether convincing.

The second part contained two works, a short Messiaen threnody for cello and piano and the big Brahms E Minor Sonata, Op. 38. Here the best and the least effective parts of Mr. Stauffer’s artistry were heard. The Messiaen is the fifth of the eight movement Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps, from 1941, titled “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus.” Here Mr. Stauffer was in his element, leaning into some notes, playing others without vibrato, juxtaposing some of the less-than-jarring dissonances in the piano and Ms. Darby’s exquisite control of diminuendo passages. The cello note at the end, over an ostinato passage in the piano, is a long fermata and worth every second of time. Long seconds indeed and wholly mesmerizing.

Brahms’ E Minor Sonata (Op. 38) concluded the printed program, a somber and mystical composition reflecting “homage to Bach” in three big movements, and finishing with a fugue and provocative modulation to G Major. Here I was expecting the piano to again cover the cello, but the balances were initially good and the noble opening theme sounded forth with fervent intensity. The warm second theme was underplayed by Mr. Stauffer, as throughout the recital he tended to need more sonic projection and instrumental passion. His style tends more towards a Fournier sound than one of DuPre, Rostropovich or the flamboyant Piatigorsky. It wasn’t a bass-heavy Brahms reading, the last Piu Presto coda of the Allegro finding the cello lost in the piano sound. Ms. Darby is an articulate pianist, clean and without score variance or inner voicing, but even her non-heroic Brahms sound easily veiled Mr. Stauffer’s elegant but small-scaled tones.

One encore was offered to a standing ovation, the long slow movement from Brahms’ F Major Sonata, Op. 99. Here again the performance of the Adagio Affettuoso was beguiling but not sonorous, the pizzicato exposition played with refinement and for once with heft.

Hosted by the Series Committee, a posh reception in the Bertolini Student Center followed the concert and honored retired SRJC faculty member Norma Brown.