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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, January 17, 2009
Afiara String Quartet

The Afiara String Quartet

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Every string quartet has to start somewhere. For the Afiara String Quartet, that somewhere includes the Occidental Community Church, where they performed on Jan. 17.

The Afiara is quite young and relatively new, having formed at the San Francisco Conservatory in 2006. Blessed with impeccable academic credentials, they are currently teaching assistants to the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco State University.

Whether the Afiara’s credentials translate into solid music-making is an open question, and remained so after their Occidental performance. While they showed flashes of brilliance in Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, their musical light flickered somewhat in Mozart’s K. 428, and dimmed considerably in Beethoven’s Op. 130.

Let’s start at the beginning. Warmly welcomed by another full house crammed into the church’s knee-capping pews, the Afiara got right down to business with an engaging reading of Mozart’s K. 428, the third of the six string quartets he dedicated to Joseph Haydn. They displayed an excellent blend in the Allegro first movement, with well-connected notes and a wide dynamic range. The pleasing blend continued into the luxurious Andante of the second movement, enhanced by matching vibratos and a lush sound.

The third movement, alas, began with a timid attack, weakened all the more by a dragging tempo. What should have been a Minuet became more of a foot stomp, and the previously distinctive texture turned to mush. Fortunately, the players rallied in the last movement, investing Mozart’s operatic writing with some genuine emotion.

Next up was Bartok No. 3. Oddly, the violist gave a somewhat condescending introduction to the piece, along the lines of, “It’s filled with unusual sounds, but it’s only 15 minutes long, so please bear with us.” Surely by now, more than 80 years after the quartet’s premiere, audiences can enjoy this masterpiece without a preparatory lecture.

The performance, in any event, was absolutely riveting. From the opening glissandos to the ringing unisons, the Afiara produced a beautiful sound that powerfully evoked Bartok’s native landscape. One could almost see the Hungarian plains, with their constantly buzzing insects and foreboding skies. At one point, the quartet produced an all-encompassing vault of sound, with the cellist serving as foundation, the middle instruments as sides, and the first violin soaring above. The range of effects, from resonant pizzicatos to spine-tingling ponticellos, increased the density and variety of the sonic mass, which more than filled the little church.

It seemed like a hard performance to top, and it was. After an overly long intermission with yet another introduction, the Afiara launched into the original version of Beethoven’s Op. 130, which concludes with the mighty Grosse Fuge. Right from the start, the texture was muddy, and the first violinist’s intonation went south. The quartet played the notes, but they didn’t seem to have figured out an interpretation. The phrasing was indistinct, the shape elusive.

The connections between the six movements of Op. 130 were further diminished by the quartet’s constant tuning and retuning. Instead of the coherent masterpiece it is, the piece ended up sounding like a dance suite. Although the dances were occasionally sprightly, they were most often ponderous and slow. The playing perked up in the Grosse Fuge, particularly in the initial entries, where each instrument forged a distinctive voice. But after a while the ensemble faltered, and the four musicians wandered apart, searching for their musical glue.

At the end, one wished the Afiara hadn’t taken on such an ambitious program. There are plenty of compositions that might be better suited to their talents and insight. Late Beethoven is a tough place to start.