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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, April 8, 2017
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Leyla Kabuli, piano

Pianist Leyla Kabuli April 8 in Santa Rosa

HULKING MAHLER "TITAN" AT SO CO PHIL'S SEASON FINALE

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 8, 2017

A composer’s first symphony rarely gives a clear indication of what beautiful complexities will follow over the years. Early Mozart and Tchaikovsky are examples, and the big exceptions to this axiom are the “firsts” of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler.

Tackling Mahler ‘s D Major Symphony (No. 1,“Titan”) April 8 was the intrepid Sonoma County Philharmonic, playing before an audience of 300 in the Santa Rosa High School Hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa took moderate tempos throughout, aiming for sonic balance in the score that runs well over 50 minutes. In a departure from local symphonic custom Mr. Gamboa directed from memory, and clearly the Mahler is a special piece for him.

In the long five-movement work a key conductor’s task is to balance instrumental sections, especially to limit brass domination of the strings, and Mr. Gamboa here was mostly successful. He caught the jolly swing from the opening bucolic pianississimo to gentle melodies in the horns (Ruth Wilson, Eric Anderson).

Tom Hyde’s trumpet solo set off the first theme of the Blumine movement, with lovely playing from harpist Randall Pratt and oboist Chris Krive, the latter playing a long Wagner-like melancholy theme. The ending in the high strings was shimmering and convincing.

Through the third and fourth (march) movements Mahler’s demands for seamless horn and wind choir playing were difficult to sustain, as the combination of instrumental stamina and high volume took a toll. That said, handsome playing was abundant in large numbers: four flutes and piccolo (Emily Reynolds, Debra Scheuerman, Mary Kemnec, Valerie White); bassoon and contrabassoon (Miranda Kincaid, Steven Peterson). The finale featured the visual treat of eight horn players standing in a row in front of the percussion section and blowing an inspired lyric melody that harkens to the D Major that was last heard long ago during the first movement. Assaulting violence in sound alternated with the composer’s splashy thematic richness. It was a harbinger of what was to some in the next 20 years and eight additional symphonies.

A signature part of this symphony is the contrabass solo (played by Karen Zimmerman) and perky piccolo duet in the march, and the conductor shaped it as a slow march. But there was nothing funereal about the sound, and Mr. Gamboa’s canny control of the many delicate changes of rhythm kept the music’s pulse steady.

One piece comprised the concert’s first half, Rachmaninoff’s C Minor Concerto (Op. 18) with pianist Leyla Kabuli. Ms. Kabuli’s playing had many fresh effects including uniquely breaking several of the opening left-hand chords and soberly artful phrasing. The ensemble was marred by the orchestra sounding too loud.

Clarity returned in the famous adagio sostenuto that featured flute and horn solos. Ms. Kabula mastered the tsunami of notes to the degree that lyric beauty of phrase was the focus in this super romantic score. Rachmaninoff’s four Concertos, Rhapsody and two Sonatas all are crammed with notes for the pianist, and though it’s easy to omit some in the thick sonic mix, the resulting aural fabric is adversely changed. Mr. Gamboa and Ms. Kabula solved this concern by adopting judicious tempos and watchful deference to the other’s musical part.

Oboe (Mr. Krive) and clarinet paying (Nick Xenelis) were first cabin throughout the work, and Robby Morales performed a sumptuous viola solo in the concluding allegro scherzando. The Hall's resident piano, sub par in past seasons in a Falla work and Mozart’s K. 488 Concerto, here sounded well, with surprisingly not brilliant hammer voicing and an improvement from the formerly dull bass string sound.

Ms. Kabula’s hard work in the finale was compromised by an overly resonant orchestra, and her playing in the speedy coda was buried. She could be seen but not heard.

Perhaps the pianist wanted to have a strong final say, and returned amidst an ovation to play a long encore - Liszt’s 12th Etude d’execution transcendante, Chasse-neige (Snow Plow). It was a wonderful performance with accurate contrary-motion chord skips and rapid tremolo. There wasn’t a hint of slackening endurance and the audience loved it.