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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

Violinist Nigel Armstrong

ARMSTRONG BRINGS DOWN THE HOUSE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2012

Local boy makes good was the operative theme March 26 when violinist Nigel Armstrong played a recital before a jammed Andrews Hall in downtown Sonoma, the event produced by the Sonoma Chamber Music Society. From Mr. Armstrong’s initial entrance with pianist Marilyn Thompson to a final raucous encore, the audience seemed to hang on every note and bodily movement of the young violinist.

The first half, consisting of Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata” and the Debussy Sonata, was problematical. Andrews Hall is not a kind acoustical space, with its high ceiling, plaster walls and surprisingly almost zero reverberation. The result was heavy piano dominance. Frequently one saw Mr. Armstrong’s flashing bow but not enough sound from him, especially in the scherzo and the finale (Rondo) pizzicato. Tempos in the Spring Sonata were moderate, the interpretation fluent and impressive in the long line of the Adagio, but on the whole a routine performance without special flair.

Debussy’s 1917 masterwork in G Minor, his last fully completed work, received some lovely playing that underscored its harmonic ambiguities. Mr. Armstrong’s soft playing in the opening Allegro Vivo was lovely, and in the high tessitura of the "Intèrmede" his vibrato widened but varied little, the ending soaring over a hushed crowd that included three rows of stage seats.

In a program change, the violinist skipped Ernst’s “Last Rose of Summer” variations and played the four-movement Ysäye solo Sonata No 2. Mr. Armstrong’s affinity with virtuoso works was on display in this composition, with many quotes from Bach (Third Partita) and the "Dies Irae" theme. The Sarabande was especially bouncy, the pizzicato and double stop effects performed with clean articulation. Mr. Armstrong played the "Les Furies" finale letting in a lot of air, the short motifs interrupted by rests and vigorously accented. It was a highlight of the afternoon.

Ms. Thompson then returned to the piano, whose lid had gone from short stick to no stick, and played Faure’s fetching Op. 75 Andante with the violinist. Instrumental balance had markedly improved, and the performance was sui generis Faure. Though rarely programmed, the piece is instantly recognizable, and it was performed without score, as were all the pieces in the second part. Faure's melancholic loveliness mated well with the following Tchaikovsky Op. 42 Melody, the third of three short pieces from an 1878 Suite the composer wrote at his patron’s country estate. The interpretation lacked rhythmic flexibility as musical schmaltz in the Melody is highly desirable!

Mr. Armstrong’s signature piece, Saint-Saëns’ "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," concluded the formal program. It was originally written for violin and orchestra, so the piano transcription is a daunting combination of fiery instrumental skips and slides for the fiddle, and it drew from the Ms. Thompson her most forceful and bass heavy playing of the program. A thunderous standing ovation was the result.

But Mr. Armstrong was not done yet, and in an encore anticipated by many in the hall he played Corigliano’s "Stomp." This solo work was commissioned by the 14th Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition in 2011, to be played by all competitors, with the sheet music received by each shortly before the Moscow Competition. It’s a whirlwind of dissonant notes and chopped phrases, and to everyone’s delight involved briefly playing the violin behind the back and resounding right-food stomps in various sequences. Intoxicating!

Needless to say, it brought down the house and the artist reveled in the warm affection and excitement his playing brought to his hometown fans.

Robert Hayden contributed to this review.