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CHAMBER REVIEW

Goodhart, Neese, Ellis, Tolstova, Schoenthal, Wright, Flor in Sebastopol

MUSICAL IMAGES A LA FLOR ET AL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 16, 2014

Laureano Flor is a bit of a Renaissance man: pianist, concert producer, computer-science teacher, sartorial personage. Many of his manifold talents were in place on Valentine's Day in a multi-performer concert for 75 in the renovated Sebastopol Center for the Arts.

The program's title, "Images of Music," was apt, with three of 19th-century landscape painter Frederick Church's works providing the backdrop for three of composer Daniel Baldwin's bucolic and plaintive pieces. Performed by clarinetist Carla Schoenthal, bassoonist Karen Wright, French hornist Ben Robinson and Mr. Floor, the musical atmosphere was at turns minimalistic and even New Age, Mr. Flor's playing giving a murmuring and mysterious foundation to the lofty wind instruments above.

Pianist Charlotte Ellis joined Mr. Flor for two short Rachmaninoff works, the slow movements (Op. 5, No. 3, and Op.17, No. 3) from the popular Two Suites for two pianos. Slow was the operative term, the pianists squeezing every drop of emotion from the two circa 1900 pieces to the detriment of majesty and contrast. Tatyana Goodhart was the next artist to play with the ubiquitous Mr. Floor, in Ravel's arrangement of two of Debussy's orchestra nocturnes, "Nuages" and "Fetes." The tempos selected were again slow, and the balances favored the larger stage piano, with Ms. Goodhart performing the filigree of "Nuages" elegantly.

The remaining eight works on the program brought various singers to the mix, with Ms. Ellis, Ms. Goodhart and Mr. Flor taking the piano parts. Of special interest were soprano Bethany Neese and tenor Adrian Boyer in the "Recuerdo" song by Charlotte Ellis, and the final three short songs with Ms. Goodhart and soprano Marina Tolstova. Ms. Tolstova's operatic voice tended to overshadow the evening's other vocalists and overpower Rachmaninoff's "A Dream" (Op. 8, No.7) and "Spring Waters" (Op. 14, No. 11). The resolute Russian soprano finished the concert with a thrilling "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's opera "Gianni Schicchi," her voice at times sliding between notes. Although powerful in sound, it lacked tonal warmth and charm.

Since late 2012, the Arts Center has been in the remodeled Sonoma County Veterans Hall in downtown Sebastopol, an ideal setting for public concerts and social events. Executive Director Linda Galleta and Mr. Flor make an ideal pair to stimulate productions of live music in this semi-cozy venue.