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Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
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.