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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
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....
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.]