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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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 11, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Olga Kern, piano

Pianist Olga Kern

A PERFECT 10 FOR THE TENTH

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Santa Rosa Symphony capped off its first year in the resplendent Green Music Center with an impassioned performance of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, widely regarded as his masterpiece in the genre. Every section of the orchestra, from the lowest bass to the most stratospheric piccolo, played to the max, producing a lush, dense sound that filled the GMC's nearly full Weill Hall almost to bursting point.

The Shostakovich was a highlight of the season, matching or exceeding memorable performances earlier in the year of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and Brahms' Symphony No. 3. In one sense, it was better than all of those, because--despite being 60 years old--it was probably new to most of the audience and made a strong case for the glories of modern repertoire.

Conductor Bruno Ferrandis chose an all-Russian program to build up to the Shostakovich. The concert opened with the all-too-brief prelude to "Khovanshchina," by Mussorgsky. Subtitled "Dawn on the Moscow River," this intensely lyrical work opens with a hushed figure in the violas that moves through the other strings and migrates to the clarinet, oboe and English horn. The playing was both ethereal and soothing, in keeping with the music's program. Sadly, it was over all too soon, ending up as more of a song than a full orchestral piece.

The full-blown orchestra arrived with the next number, Rachmaninoff's oft-performed Piano Concerto No. 2, this time with Russian pianist Olga Kern, winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. She entered from stage right in a floor-length red dress with a semi-open back, but her subsequent performance never quite matched the implicit fire of her bodily decor. She sat stiffly on the piano bench, her shoulders slightly stooped, her eyes fixated on the keyboard. In a work of intense Romanticism, she seemed to be more of an observer than a participant.

Kern's playing in the first movement lacked both projection and fluidity. She was often buried by the orchestra, and her phrases were disconnected. Instead of flowing into each other, they seemed isolated--fragments instead of a complete entity. The second movement was better, but again the piano didn't ring out, and the playing lacked fire. It was only in the third, with its unflaggingly popular melody, that Kern finally came to life, articulating each recurrence of the theme with authority and technical dazzle.

The relative disappointment of the Rachmaninoff was soon forgotten in the magnificent opening bars of the Shostakovich. Using the simplest of means--the first three notes of the minor scale--Shostakovich crafts a riveting and suspenseful tale, as the three-note figure begins in the cellos and moves throughout the orchestra, pausing briefly for a gorgeous clarinet solo, ably played here by Roy Zajac. The inexorable forward motion continues, leading to an arresting fortissimo section followed by a long decrescendo.

The playing throughout the movement was exemplary, nowhere more so than in a luscious post-fortissimo clarinet duet between Zajac and his colleague Mark Wardlaw. The duet led into an obsessive waltz highlighted by crisp unanimity from the strings, and then into a haunting conclusion for piccolo and drums.

If the first movement displayed the Symphony's expressive capabilities, the second showed off their ability to play at top speed with an unflagging beat. Ferrandis launched them into a relentless perpetual motion at top volume, and they never let up. The effect was both dazzling and intense.

Speed gave way to Shostakovich's elegantly simple phrases in the third movement, marked Allegretto. Sounding much like a string quartet, the fiddles and their kin acted as a perfect foil for beguiling solos from French hornist Alex Camphouse and English hornist Bennie Cottone. Despite the relatively slow tempo, the forward motion was compelling, thanks to Ferrandis's steady beat.

Both Shostakovich and the Symphony saved the best for last, with a thoroughly convincing reading of the final movement. The pace was again furious, and the pulse evident at all times. Ferrandis exerted great dynamic control, easing into pianissimos with as much authority as fortissimos. The many solos from woodwinds and brass were all well played, making the work a virtual concerto for orchestra. When it came, the ending was sheer drama. It was a great way to end the season, and it bodes well for the season to come.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]