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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....
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW

Baritone Florian Boesch

A WINTER'S JOURNEY IN SPRING

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 11, 2014

On a May afternoon of abundant sunshine and warmth, a few hundred people gathered in Weill Hall to hear a song cycle about the bleakest of midwinters. The composer was Schubert, the singer was the Austrian baritone Florian Boesch, and the cycle was "Winterreise" (Winter's Journey), easily the saddest and most profound example of the form.

Boesch and pianist Malcom Martineau were clad entirely in black, the better to reinforce the somber mood. After reminding the audience not to applaud until after the 24th and final song, Boesch leaned up against the piano, and then unleashed his spine-tingling, wonderfully resonant voice, as soft around the edges as a kitten. Hands clasped in front, he sang the opening lines in full character: "Fremd bin ich eingezogen, Fremd zieh' ich wieder aus" (As a stranger I arrived, as a stranger again I leave).

Among his many stellar attributes, Boesch is a consummate actor. By the end of the first song, "Gute Nacht" (Good Night), he had fully established his character, a heartbroken man rejected by the woman who professed to love him back in May. Now he leaves her town and sets out alone on a winter's journey of unknown destination.

The next song, "Die Wetterfahne" (The Weather Vane) offered a strong contrast to the first. Boesch unfolded his hands and held them far apart, with fists clenched. Unlike the restraint and sad acceptance of "Gute Nacht," he now displayed flashes of anger, with a voice to back them up. That intensity continued in the famous "Gefrorene Tränen" (Frozen Tears) that followed, reaching a climax (lowmax?) in the deep bass notes of the second verse.

By the fourth song, it was clear that Boesch would enact each one differently, while confined to a few square feet in front of the piano. Hand gestures and facial expressions were his visual allies, but the real difference came in his and Martineau's musical approach to each text. His voice was by turns mellifluous, agitated, whispered, and strident. Martineau likewise displayed a full range of emotion without ever overstepping his boundaries. He always allowed Boesch to shine through.

Being Austrian, Boesch has an inherent advantage in pronouncing the text of "Winterreise." Every word was distinct and fully articulated. Final consonants came to a full stop, and vowels blended beautifully. His breath control was superb, and his upper range was as bewitching in its softness as his bass in its thundering.

As the songs rolled along, each one stood out in its own way. In the fourth, it was the despairing enactment of "Wo find ich eine Blüte?" (Where will I find a blossom?). In the fifth, it was the shift in tone to match the "dead of night." In the sixth, it was the anguished outburst at the end.

Throughout the performance, Boesch really tested the limits of his voice and character. His repeated pianissimos were perhaps the most beguiling aspect of his musical arsenal. Perched just on the edge of inaudibility, they brought a hushed stillness to the house, a quietude that was only interrupted by overanxious page turners following along in their programs. In the acting domain, Boesch emphasized his character's anger as much as his resigned acceptance of his fate.

Boesch's emphasis on contrast and duality makes him an ideal interpreter of Schubert, a composer noted for his constant fluctuation between major and minor. This fluctuation is present throughout the cycle, nowhere more so than in "Frühlingstraum" (A Dream of Spring), where the merry bird songs of the opening verse are replaced by the crowing of roosters and the shrieks of ravens.

The real pivot in the cycle comes in the 20th song, "Der Wegweiser" (The Signpost), where the traveler resolves to take a road "from which no one has ever returned." After making that vow, Boesch stood perfectly still, allowing the metronomic clock ticking in the piano to come to the fore. It was a chilling moment.

From there to the end, the intensity increased relentlessly, from a visit to the graveyard, to the traveler's delirious vision of three suns in the sky, and finally to a frozen lake, where a forlorn hurdy-gurdy man plays incessantly as he staggers back and forth, barefoot on the ice. Boesch brought yet another voice to this song, almost speaking the short, clipped phrases and then sustaining the final notes in a haunting tone of utmost delicacy.

The ovation was immediate and sustained. This was a great performance of a musical masterpiece, as full of drama as a grand opera, but enacted in a fraction of the space and with just two consummate musicians.