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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

Modigliani String Quartet

BRUSHSTROKES OF GENIUS FROM THE MODIGLIANI

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 28, 2012

With a name like the Modigliani Quartet, you might expect the players to be long-necked Parisians, fitting subjects for portraits by that early 20th-century master — and you wouldn’t be far wrong. The players are indeed Parisian, but the long necks belong to their instruments, which might as well be bodily appendages. Rarely do you see chamber musicians so closely wedded to the tools of their trade.

One reason they hold their fiddles so tight might have to do with their provenance. They’re not Strads, but they’re close: violins by Guadagnini and Gagliano, a cello by Goffriller, and the standout of the group — a 1660 viola by Mariani. Of course, instruments depend entirely on players to make them sing, and here the quartet was more than up to the task. Taking full advantage of the superb acoustics at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, they and the gifted young pianist Joyce Yang offered a sparkling concert on a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon on the last weekend of October.

Weill Hall, the main auditorium at the music center (a recital hall is still in the works), is particularly resplendent on sunny afternoons, with the light streaming through its many windows and bathing the patrons in a warm glow. The only jarring note is the cheesy prerecorded welcome on the PA system, which sounds like the kind of bass-heavy tape one hears on a Disneyland ride. Once that fades away, however, the actual acoustics take over.

The Modigliani — four young men dressed in black — opened with a seldom performed early Schubert quartet: D. 46, in C major, written when he was a teenager. Depending on how you count them, Schubert wrote at least 15 string quartets, but only the three final ones have entered the standard repertoire. The Modigliani made a strong case for adding a fourth to that list.

D. 46 (it could use a nickname) begins with a descending chromatic line in the cello, followed by similar figures in the viola and violins. The sound from the very first note was rich, warm, and full, marked above all by fluidity and dynamic control. The players exchanged knowing glances as they eased into the heart of the quartet, which is definitely Schubert, complete with lilting melodies, exquisite harmonies, and profound dramatic tension.

Watching the Modigliani was almost as fun as hearing them. Cellist Francois Kieffer in particular has great facial expressions, pursing his lips, squinting his eyes, and arching his eyebrows. You could see the entire Schubert quartet transpiring on his visage.

The house was nearly full, and a goodly portion applauded enthusiastically after each movement. The musicians took this breach of decorum in stride, and it even seemed to help them relax and play all the better. At all other times, the audience was quiet as a mouse, enabling the quartet to play really softly, particularly in the middle movements. By the time they got to the rollicking, virtuosic final movement, they had thoroughly captivated the crowd.

Next up was the more-familiar Haydn Op. 76, No. 1, the first of his most famous set of quartets. Like the Schubert, Haydn's quartet begins with individual entrances, and here each instrument was as resplendent as before. The Modigliani proved sensitive to the structure of the quartet, articulating each section with carefully controlled dynamics. The opening of the slow second movement was spine-tingling, an exquisite balance of unfolding lines. The concluding movements were dominated by stellar playing from the first violinist Philippe Berhard, who seemed at times like a country fiddler leading a whirlwind dance.

Many patrons stood to applaud even before the intermission, yet the true ovation came at the end of the concert, after a riveting performance of Schumann’s piano quintet. This monumental work is one of the pinnacles of the chamber repertoire, and the quartet, together with pianist Joyce Yang, ascended it with ease.

Yang, also dressed head to toe in black, proved to be both an adept accompanist and a captivating soloist, as the occasion demanded. Unlike legions of pianists who drown out strings, Yang stayed well in the background during the many string solos, particularly in the first movement, with its recurring cello–viola duet. When her turn came, she bounced up and down on the bench, playing with real fire.

The Modigliani proved sensitive to the structure of the quartet, articulating each section with carefully controlled dynamics.The second movement was pure perfection, with the dark, brooding march of the opening measures leading to an ethereal second theme, as heavenly as the opening was subterranean. Listeners could almost hear Schumann’s tormented psyche resolving itself in exquisite sound. This psychodrama was followed in short order by the demonic scherzo, played here to maximum effect.

The last movement showcased the many talents of Modigliani and Yang. The ensemble was able to turn on a dime, moving adroitly from one section to the next, until their triumphal entry on the final fugue. They clearly understood the sweep of Schumann’s masterpiece, and they played it to the hilt. At the end, the audience rose as one.

[Reprinted by permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.]