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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....
RECITAL REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Sunday, September 15, 2013
Renée Fleming, soprano. Gerald Martin Moore,piano

Soprano Renée Fleming

GOLD, SILVER, PLATINUM

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two songs into her first-ever concert at Weill Hall, Renée Fleming got a laugh by saying, "I'm so excited when I can still make a debut." At 54, Fleming has sung just about everywhere of any consequence, but she still brings a youthful enthusiasm to her performances, along with a youthful voice.

Those first two songs, sung to a nearly full house and lawn on a glorious September afternoon, were actually arias from Handel oratorios: "To Fleeting Pleasures" from Samson, and "O Sleep" from Semele. The latter was mesmerizing, starting on an elaborate glissando on the opening "O" that landed perfectly on pitch. Even more impressive was the fervor with which Fleming sang the plaintive lyrics: "O sleep, again deceive me, to my arms restore my wand'ring love!"

The Handel arias established a pattern that held true throughout the afternoon. Fleming sang with conviction, successfully inhabiting a series of operatic and musical characters, each one thoroughly convincing. Whether enacting Handel's Cleopatra or Leonard Bernstein's Maria, Fleming fit the part, even though her costume changed only once, at intermission.

For those intrigued by such matters, Fleming helpfully announced that the silvery gray evening gown and shawl she wore in the first half were by Vivian Westwood (an English designer famous for punk fashions), whereas the golden dress and coat of the second half were by Angel Sanchez (a Venezuelan with many star clients).

While the wardrobe helped focus attention on Fleming, all that really mattered was what came out of her mouth, and that was consistently excellent, with only a few minor blemishes. One of those arrived at the beginning of the second half, when she didn't quite slide into a high note in Erich Korngold's "Marietta's Lied" (Marietta's song). The other came a few songs later, when she was likewise flat in Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" (Oh my dear father). But the rest was musical nirvana.

Not to be ignored was her accompanist Gerald Martin Moore, a pianist of great delicacy and refinement who managed to summon an entire orchestra with just 10 fingers, two feet and an ever-so-slightly open piano lid. Fleming often gripped the edge of that lid with her right hand, standing comfortably inside the piano's sweeping curve.

Their program was as varied as two dozen songs could be, ranging from the Handel arias, to orchestral songs by Richard Strauss, to American folksongs, to Italian opera, to "The Sound of Music." From a musical standpoint, the three Strauss songs were the highlight of the afternoon.

After declaring Strauss to be her "desert island composer," Fleming launched into a feathery light performance of "Ständchen" (Serenade), giving full meaning to "The brook scarcely murmurs, the breeze scarcely stirs." She then abruptly shifted into the impassioned text of "Morgen" (Morning), executing a gripping crescendo on the opening line: "Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen" (And tomorrow the sun will shine again). Equally gripping was her rendition of the third Strauss song, "Zueignung" (Dedication). Her vibrato here was unobtrusive and carefully controlled, and her gestures were convincing.

Two folksongs by Joseph Canteloube were next, followed by Léo Delibes' wonderful "Les filles de Cadix" (The girls of Cadiz). Here Fleming's coloratura took center stage, as she slid deliriously from low note to high, channeling the soul of a Spanish maiden dancing the bolero. More folksongs followed, beginning with a medley of "The Water is Wide" and "Shenandoah," then moving on to "Wild Horses," by Jean Richie. Fleming hadn't quite memorized the Richie song, so she kept glancing at the text atop the piano lid.

The first half concluded with a somewhat peculiar rendition of the first few lines of The Declaration of Independence by the contemporary composer J. Todd Frazier. Jefferson's polysyllabic prose is about as far away from lyric as one can get, and the musical result was more of a recitative than a song.

The second half was mostly given over to lighter fare, with the notable exception of the opening number, Korngold's "Marietta's Lied." This fabulous aria makes one want to hear the rest of his rarely performed youthful opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Despite the aforementioned blemish, Fleming brought Marietta fully to life, one of the afternoon's most memorable characters.

Two waltzy songs about Vienna followed, with Fleming in full swing, and then three Italian opera arias, including the Puccini. These were all well done, but there weren't any standouts.

The real crowd-pleasers came in the last part of the program, devoted to American musicals. Despite an initial memory lapse, Fleming clearly enunciated all the many words of Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty," and she gave a heartfelt performance of his "Somewhere," both from West Side Story. From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to "The Sound of Music" and "A Wonderful Guy."

Following boisterous applause, Fleming offered just one encore, "I could have danced all night," inducing the crowd to sing along as she improvised some vocal colorings and a resounding high note at the end.