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Choral and Vocal
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SYMPHONY REVIEW

RIMSKY PROVES RISKY IN GUERNEVILLE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seth Montfort’s Russian River Conservatory seems to have a lock on classical music premieres for the North Bay and Sonoma County, with nearly every concert in his Guerneville mortuary-turned–concert-hall bringing arcane repertoire to small but knowledgeable audiences. Concerts produced by Seth are adventures.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Piano Concerto in C Sharp was the featured work on Sept. 21, with Montfort at the Conservatory piano and Gabriel Sakakeeny conducting the Mortuary Orchestra of Guerneville. Having a professional conductor (Sakakeeny is the director of the American Philharmonic Sonoma County) was an absolute necessity for this concert, as rehearsal time was limited, acoustics were problematic, and the music was probably new to all, including this reviewer, whose only experience with the concerto is the long-vanished Richter recording from the 1960s.

The concerto doesn’t quite fit into conventional orchestral repertoire. Composed in 1882, at the same time as the similar (but longer) Arensky Concerto in F, the Rimsky work is on a different planet than the ca.1875 blockbusters of the Russian canon, the Tchaikovsky B-Flat and the Rubinstein D Minor. Rimsky’s work never really makes an artistic whole. There is much Liszt present in thematic transformation, lots of octaves in the piano, and much alteration of tempo.

In this performance, there was, unfortunately, not much alteration of volume, nor was there any subtlety of phrasing or harmonic balancing. The reasons for this lack of success were manifold: the inadequate and dull piano, the absence of pianistic rubato, the dense textures from the small performance space, and a sense of incompatibility between the solo instrument and the 29-musician orchestra.

On the other hand, the aspects that went well were quite lovely, including the ardent clarinet solos by Jeff Chan; the uniformly good horn playing from Janis Lieberman and Paul Hadley; the long, repetitious but lovely solo cadenza with choice resurrections of the opening theme; and Sakakeeny’s rapt attention to the score.

This reviewer could not stay for the second half, a complete “Seasons” of Vivaldi. Alas, it was my loss, as phone calls the next day revealed that the performance had polish, charm and authenticity.