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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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Green Music Center / Friday, November 10, 2017
Les Artes Florissants

Partial Les Artes Florissants touring troupe in 2015

RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017

Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented.

With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticity are needed, and with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Charpentier’s Actéon the Les Artes Florissants ensemble from Caen, France, were an ideal match. Before an audience of 400 the seven singers and seven instrumentalists, guided at the harpsichord by founder and director William Christie, gave spirited and authoritative readings of the two lyric operas, composed within six years of each other in the 1680s.

Colorful women’s dresses helped brighten the bare Weill stage and each of the singers moved about the stage and emphasized parts of the dramas. Actéon is a pastorale en musique with an ideal balance between dramatic singing, instrumental ensemble (two violins, viola, gamba, baroque oboe, 12-string lute and harpsichord) and stage action. The movement of the singers and their theatrical facial expressions and shouts lent excitement and sometimes histrionic charm inside the bounds of the restricted performance area.

Charpentier’s libretto is brief: Actéon and his hunting pals separate, and the later finds himself viewing the goddess Diane and her sisters bathing in a bucolic pool with flowers. He hides but is discovered, and the avenging Diane casts a spell that turns Actéon into a stag. He flees but us torn apart by the hunter’s hounds.

Singing Diane was the regal Élodie Fonnard with Reinoud Van Mechelen as Actéon. Both were able to direct their powerful voices to mesh with, at least for Diane, the women giving advice that surrounded her in the forest. Mr. Van Mechelen was particularly persuasive in the complex scene where he turns from man to animal. The unnamed choreographer (Mr. Christie?) designed simple but quite effective gestures and movements that supported the luscious baroque harmonies and repetitive French opera rhythms. There was palpable sadness from Diane’s court over a vengeful and perhaps an unnecessary hero’s death, using rich vocal colors, but it was of minimal duration. A standing ovation followed the final words.

A concert oversight was that no musicians were identified in the printed program, nor were they on the French websites. Mention needs to be made of the gamba player who toiled tirelessly all evening with Mr. Christie in continuo, and the 12-string lutenist that sat in the harpsichord’s case curve and provided non-stop sonic underpinning.

After intermission the more popular and slightly longer Purcell work was heard with the same forces. The sprightly overture was exciting, highlighted by cello and lute duos, and the oboe part could mimic the sounds of subdued brass and a modern clarinet. Odd indeed to my ears. The longer recitatives were supported by the lute and harpsichord lines. In Dido the singing continued to adroitly bring character and shape to the minimal but telling words. Carlo Vistoli (countertenor) had the requisite calculating menace as the sorceress, and the two witches (Maud Gnidzaz and Virginie Thomas) had penetrating snarls, as did the multi-character Renato Dolcini (Aeneas, peripheral participant). Familiar arias such as “Come Away Ye Sailors” and “Ho Ho Ho When Ships Sail Away” were sung with attractive abandon.

A lovely gamba solo introduced the famous Dido’s Lament (When I am Laid In Earth) that was sung with carefully shaped descending whole notes by soprano Lea Desandre, who then slowly strode stage left through the door to her opera doom. Sadness was convincingly conveyed by the upper strings and finally by the chorus, asking that roses as soft ad Dido’s heart be spread on her tomb.

A first in Weill Hall was supertitles, displayed on a forty-foot wide black screen and hung over the choral section behind the stage. The letters, unlike in many local theaters, were large and easily readable, and were faultlessly coordinated with the two mesmerizing productions, the first in impeccable French and the second in mostly recognizable English.