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CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
Occidental Center for the Arts / Sunday, January 13, 2013
Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra, Nicholas Xenelis, conductor. Norma Brown, piano; Jeff Chan, clarinet; Valerie Marshall, cello; Daniel Celidore, oboe; Paul Hadley, horn; Miranda Kincaid, bassoon; Christopher Fritzsche, countertenor

Nick Xenelis, Dan Celidore, Miranda Kinkaid, Paul Hadley and Jeffrey Chan

JAN. 13 OCCIDENTAL AND GUERNEVILLE PROGRAMS OPEN RIVER CONCERT SEASON

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 13, 2013

Russian Riverís winter concert season began Jan. 13 with two events at nearly the same location and time, both programs packed with abundant vocal qualities.

Sonia Tubridyís River Choir performed their annual Winterfest concert in the Guerneville Community Church before 30 ardent listeners. The 12-member choir, diminished from their usual number because of illness, began with a series of short works of Susato, Mozart, Andrejs Jansons, Schubert and Bach.

Director Tubridy did extra duty at the piano and even used a small rhythmic drum in Pietro Yonís "Gesu Bambino." First-half soloists included Kathrin Williams, Lois Pearlman, Jean Ashley and Tom Lowrie.

The balance of the concert was not heard due to a short drive to Occidental for the Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestraís concert in the townís cozy Performing Arts Center. A warm beginning was offered in the opening Clarinet Trio of Brahms, Op. 114, with pianist Norma Brown, clarinetist Jeffrey Chan and cellist Valerie Marshall. In each of the four movements, the players highlighted the innate lyricism of the work from Brahmsí last period.

Norma Brown is an old friend to this trio. She played with a subdued approach, probably because of the vacuous sound of the instrument she was given, and the composerís generally autumnal writing. I suspect itís also the way she perceives the piece, and her colleagues followed suit. Mr. Chan spun lovely phrases in the beginning Allegro and subsequent Adagio, and Ms. Marshall, overcoming some intonation and upper register difficulties, played with a flowing and full bottom register. At times the clarinet covered the other instruments, but after all itís a clarinet work. The unison playing in the closing Allegro was bracing, and the ensemble tidy.

Counterenor Christopher Fritzsche joined consummate oboist Daniel Celidore in selections from Vaughn Williamsí "Ten Blake Songs for High Voice," written a year before the composerís death in 1958. Beginning with "The Lamb," the interplay between the somber oboe line and the airy, occasionally melismatic singing was captivating. Often the two parts were far apart harmonically, the oboe playing seemingly giving no direct assistance to the singer. There are echoes here of the opera "Riders to the Sea." The monochromatic nature of the high vocal part, in Mr. Fritzscheís deliberately sparse phrasing, had a bit of menace. "A Poison Tree," "Ah! Sunflower," "Eternity" and "The Piper" were the final songs, the last the most jaunty.

Conductor Nicholas Xenelisí 19-member Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra somehow found room on the small stage and concluded the concert with Mozartís Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn and Orchestra, K. 297b. Throughout the three-movement work, Mr. Xenelis favored leisurely tempos. The opening Allegro, with its numerous repeated expositions, tended to the deliberate. The conductor focused his attention on control of dynamics to exemplary effect, eliciting excellent ensemble in a sporadically scrappy orchestra sound, and his deference to the four soloists was deft. Mozartís masterful writing for winds was everywhere in evidence, and the conductor was in total command, rarely looking at the score before him.

In addition to Mr. Celidore, the soloists included Mr. Chan, bassoonist Miranda Kinkaid and hornist Paul Hadley. The pungent clarinet and oboe parts in this hall tended to overpower the upper strings (though not Bill Foutyís sonorous bass playing), and the E Flat tonality in the entire piece brought continuity and delectable long phrases to the thematic material. Under Mr. Xenelisí paced direction the music was iterative, but it never meandered.

In the 10-variation finale, the virtuosity of the solo quartet shone, especially the discourse of clarinet and oboe, resulting in a standing ovation from the 125 in attendance. Proceeds from the concert benefited the Performing Arts Center.