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Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Soprano Christine Brandes

MOZART, MAHLER BURNING BRIGHT

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 12, 2011

How many performances of the Jupiter Symphony does it take to turn on a light bulb above the head of attentive listeners? In the case of the Santa Rosa Symphony, only one. Despite a few minor flaws, their rendition of this beloved classic on Feb. 12 was incandescent, glowing with the warm light that Mozart sheds over Earth and other planets.

With his precise style and brisk tempos, Bruno Ferrandis is a natural Mozart conductor. Glancing only occasionally at a diminutive pocket score, he flew right into the opening Allegro vivace, bidding the strings to dig in and articulate the notes with precision and rapidity. He loomed over the orchestra like a hawk, spreading his arms to ride the waves of sound and then diving forward suddenly to summon each new entry. The call-and-response orchestration was clearly audible, with each phrase matching its counterpart.

The tension of the first movement gave way to the singing Andante of the second. Ferrandis lowered his shoulders considerably, and the orchestra responded with a more relaxed and open sound, marred only by a lack of dynamic contrast. The third movement, a minuet, brought even more changes, with unexpected ritards in certain measures, followed by strong downbeats. The violins offered some particularly agile bowing, mixing fluid down bows with spiky upstrokes.

The fourth movement was both the most impressive and the most problematic. Ferrandis and the orchestra did a great job of bringing out all the many disparate parts, but some of the entries were ragged and uncertain. The woodwinds in particular seemed to have trouble following Ferrandis’s beat, occasionally entering late and rushing their notes. The overall effect, however, was wonderful.

Wonderful also was the concert-opening overture to the Marriage of Figaro, rendered at an equally brisk pace with good ensemble playing from the strings. Unlike many orchestra programs, the overture was followed by an aria from the actual opera: “Porgi, amor,” sung by soprano Christine Brandes. She wasted no time in displaying her full, rounded voice, crescendoing effortlessly into high notes with a carefully controlled vibrato. She has a gorgeous sound perfectly suited to the aria, which is sung by the unhappy Countess at the beginning of the second act.

Brandes returned after intermission to sing the Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg. While not as well known as his Altenberg Lieder, the songs do show his remarkable feeling for drama and soaring melody. Their scoring, however, is a bit murky, probably because they were originally conceived for voice and piano and orchestrated much later to capitalize on Berg’s operatic fame.

While Brandes sang well, she undercut her own stage presence by using a score. This was a little mystifying, given her many operatic roles, but perhaps she didn’t have time to memorize the music. In any case, her German articulation was not as precise as her Italian in the Mozart aria, and her lower notes were often swallowed by the orchestra. Balance was a problem in the outer movements, which call for larger orchestra, but she hit her stride in the less orchestrated middle movements, particularly in the third song, “The Nightingale,” where she displayed great strength in her upper register.

In contrast to the Mozart, the Berg songs were all slow-moving, rarely rising above a strolling Andante. The pace slowed even more for the final work on the program, the Adagio from Mahler’s incomplete 10th symphony. Here the soaring vocal lines of the Berg were replaced by long figures from the strings, most notably the violas. They begin the movement all by themselves, playing an ambient melody that floats around a tonal center without ever settling down. The performance here was exquisite, with cohesive ensemble and not a single note or bow out of place.

After the violas’ memorable entry, the rest of the orchestra took turns pouring out Mahler’s viscous score. The forces are immense, but the work often has a chamber feeling, with only one or two lines unfolding. Mahler moves from one idea to the next, never settling into any definite direction. The entire movement seems to be composed of dying cadences, each one projecting an aura of finality, only to be replaced by another cadence that seems even more final.

Toward the end, the orchestra settled briefly into a triumphant waltz, followed by a series of memorable duets. When the movement finally did end, the sound moved upward from the cellos and bassoons to a shrill (and slightly out of tune) utterance from the piccolo. While not a quite a bang, it was a fitting conclusion for Mahler’s otherwise dark and brooding masterpiece.

All in all, the concert offered quite a contrast, from the vivacity of Mozart to the tortured melancholy of Mahler and Berg. Nonetheless, the light bulb burned brightly throughout.

[Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.]