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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....
CHAMBER REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Saturday, October 18, 2008
Hugo Wolf Quartet
Sebastian Gertler, Violin
Regis Bringolf, Violin
Gertrud Weinmeister, Viola
Florian Berner, Cello
Tickets $25, $23 members, $10 students with ID

The Hugo Wolf Quartet

VIENNESE LIFE, LOVE AND DEATH

by Steve Osborn
Monday, October 20, 2008

Shortly after taking the stage at the Occidental Community Church on Oct. 18, Gertrud Weinmeister, the violist of the Hugo Wolf Quartet, observed that Sonoma County resembles Vienna in its profusion of hillside vineyards. She further noted that all three composers on the Vienna-based ensemble’s program — Haydn, Schubert and Berg — were wine lovers.

Music and wine have a lot in common. Most fundamentally, both transform reality for a finite amount of time: music for as long the song endures; wine for as long as the inebriation lasts. Both are also made from a single core element (sounds or grapes) that the composer or winemaker picks, crushes, blends, bottles and otherwise transforms from raw material into finished product.

The quality and effect of that product depends on the skill of the composer or winemaker. For the ever-cheerful Haydn, his sonic intoxicant induces jollity and frolic. For the tortured Alban Berg, musical drinking leads to the depths of passion, betrayal and adultery. And for Schubert, a mere sip is the portal to another world, one far removed from the suffering of the present.

Back on stage, the music began with a pronounced intake of air, presumably from first violinist Sebastian Gürtler, as the quartet launched into Haydn’s sprightly Opus 33, No. 5. Taking full advantage of the church’s intimate acoustic, the quartet brought forth every individual line, with precisely controlled dynamics and a remarkable rhythmic flexibility. Rather than chaining themselves to a metronome, the group allowed each of Haydn’s long phrases to develop its own internal rhythm and meaning. The result was a fresh and captivating reading of a time-honored classic.

Gürtler invested the second movement, a Largo cantabile, with real drama by using minimal vibrato and allowing the other voices — violist Weinmeister, second violinist Régis Bringolf and cellist Florian Berner — to come through. Judging from the richness of tone, they all have superior instruments, and the sound they produced was almost sculptural in its solidity and strength. The last movement, a set of variations on a simple theme, allowed each instrument to shine in turn, ending with a fiery Presto replete with tricky bowing.

The festive country dances evoked in the Haydn find their counterpart in the elegiac waltzes of Berg’s “Lyric Suite,” which tells the true story of the married composer’s doomed affair with the wife of a wealthy businessman. The tempo markings of the suite’s six movements offer more than enough evidence of the affair’s inexorable progression from joviality (Allegro gioviale), to love (Andante amoroso), to mystery (Allegro mysterioso), to passion (Adagio appassionato), to delirium (Presto delirando), to final desolation (Largo desolato).

To evoke these various emotive states, Berg uses almost every variety of sound available to the string quartet, along with many varieties of his own invention. The academics may speak of Berg’s 12-tone rows and precisely calibrated metronome markings, but the emotional impact of this powerful work is mainly conveyed by the quality of its sound, from shimmering pianissimo tremolos to thunderous chordal sforzandos.

The Hugo Wolf proved masters at keeping up with Berg’s constantly shifting sonic landscape. Their bows were all over their instruments, whether digging in near the bridge or feathering across the fingerboard. The third movement, with its hushed beginning and onrushing pizzicatos, was particularly remarkable. On the down side, some parts of the suite seemed simply too loud. The effect of maximum volume can be dramatic, but it’s difficult to sustain. A little more mezzo forte would have been in order.

In contrast, excessive volume was never an issue in the concluding work, Schubert’s majestic “Death and the Maiden.” From the ringing chords at the beginning to the furious presto at the end, the Hugo Wolf played this masterpiece to perfection. Their dynamics, tempi and interpretation were squarely aligned.

Each movement brought new insight and depth of feeling. The first was a model of sustained energy; the second of delicate poignancy. The heartfelt variations in the latter movement showed off each player’s impeccable intonation and intelligent phrasing. By the end of the movement, the original melody had floated away on a heavenly cloud. In the Scherzo and Trio of the third movement, the players really dug in with their bows, allowing each note to ring out.

But the fourth movement Presto was the real standout. From the onset, all four players launched into a furious dance, led by the stern-faced Gürtler, whose expression was unvarying. Each note was distinct, the runs not a blur of sound but a sequence of sharply etched intervals. The syncopations drove the rhythms, which became increasingly wild and thrilling.

It was a memorable performance, a reminder that Vienna is still the musical capital, its composers and performers still intoxicated with sound.