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SYMPHONY REVIEW
ChamberFest Seven - Sonoma State University / Sunday, June 26, 2016
Santa Rosa Symphony. Jeffrey Kahane, conductor. Jon Kimura Parker and Jeffrey Kahane, piano; David Shifrin, clarinet; Benjamin Jaber, horn; Paul Neubauer, viola; Benjamin Bellman, violin

Pianists Jon Kimura Parker and Jeffery Kahane and the SR Symphony in Weill Hall June 26

CHAMBERFEST ENDS WITH SUMPTUOUS ALL-MOZART CONCERT IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, June 26, 2016

SSU’s ChamberFest concluded its second season June 26 with what was predicted to be a capstone concert, the last in a sterling series of seven devoted to Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn. And the all-Mozart concert in Weill Hall came close to being the most memorable of all, but not quite.

Before an appreciative audience of 1,000 and a large compliment of Green Music Center benefactors and CSU officials, two works comprised the first half and were the afternoon’s triumphs. David Shifrin was the soloist in the A Major Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, playing an elongated instrument and with lovely controlled phrasing, and easily fitting conductor Jeffrey Kahane’s judicious tempos with a reduced-personnel Santa Rosa Symphony.

In this work the wind section, especially the bassoons of Carla Wilson and Shawn Jones, negated the need for brass and timpani, and Mr. Shifrin’s rich bottom register carried well, and he nailed the notes in the big leaps. This clarity and protracted phrasing also characterized the lament of the Adagio, recalling the music of Mozart’s “Grand Partita” in palpable longing and variety of expression. The return of the first theme in pianissimo was captivating, and the clarinetist’s full tone was never harsh or coarse. He alternated masterfully staccato notes with a seamless legato in the finale. The applause was robust.

Concluding the first half violinist Benjamin Beilman joined colleague violist Paul Neubauer in the E-Flat Major Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, again ably conducted by Mr. Kahane. Here horns were added to the mix and the long introduction to the soloist’s entry presages a special experience. And so it was, the soaring themes and exquisite instrumental blend brought the word “sublime” to mind.

In the Andante longer unison duos, often over horns, prevailed, and Mr. Neubauer’s rich low register sang out. He often deferred to Mr. Beilman with his eyes, but never with his bow. In the cadenza there was a quasi question-and-answer interchange with impeccable instrumental concordance, perhaps bringing a tear of joy to some eyes. It was simply radiant playing from the duo that reflected either copious rehearsal, or consummates artistry, or both.

The Presto finale was never too fast and Br. Beilman’s thin but often brilliant sound stood out from the orchestral fabric. It was a glorious performance of two voices as one, and elicited a standing ovation.

Conducting sans baton the entire afternoon, Mr. Kahane drew focused and supportive playing from the 26-musican orchestra, and long-time observers of his podium work (at least from his tenure at the SR Symphony) noticed stylistic changes. There is now less total body podium movement and his deft direction now comes from eye, head and evocative hand movements. He clearly knows how to command an ensemble and obtain the sonic balances he wishes.

The two works after intermission, a horn concerto (K. 412/K. 514) and the sterling E-Flat Major two piano concerto, were both effective and convincing but had less exalted performances than the first-half works. In the short two-movement D Major horn work soloist Benjamin Jaber played capably but with a muffled sound in scales and limited virtuosity and thematic projection. However, Mr. Jaber endeared himself to the audience with his stage presence: scoping out sections of the hall, flipping a black shoulder cloth right and left, and exhibiting harmless gestures with his uncommonly not shiny instrument.

Finishing the concert and ChamberFest was the K. 365 Concerto, to many the best two-piano with orchestra work ever composed. The lids were off both concert pianos and Jon Kimura Parker and Mr. Kahane (conducting from the piano stage left) did artistic battle with the seminal score, flügel a flügel.

Cutoffs throughout were quick and tempos always fast, but it’s a work that can accept such a quick pace. The danger with fast tempos, especially from Mr. Kahane’s pianism, is blurring in scale passages. After five years in Weill it’s no secret to performers that capturing a clear legato in chamber music is difficult, the opposite of symphonic music (the balcony is best) and most solo piano and violin recitals.

A highlight of the piece was the fetching and harmonically daring Andante with stellar long-phrase playing from oboist Laura Reynolds, flutist Stacey Pelinka and Ms. Wilson’s bassoon. Here instrumental detail was distinctly heard.

The excitement of the concluding Rondo was diminished by too much speed for the needed clarity, and a surprisingly underplayed cadenza. It’s a place for some pianistic showmanship, and in the ascending three sets of 11-note groups for each piano just before the end there wasn’t spark and growl to the soloist’s performance. Obviously on this occasion Mr. Kahane and Mr. Kimura Parker wanted a seamless and symmetrical rendition of Mozart’s magical score, but the most resplendent moments were from the composer and not the soloists. Sui generis.

Audience reaction was immediate and intense, with loud “bravos” and multiple curtain calls. It was also an outpouring of gratitude for Mr. Kahane’s visionary artistic accomplishment with ChamberFest.

Sonia Morse Tubridy contributed to this review.