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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
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
RECITAL REVIEW

Marilyn Thompson (l) and Carol Menke Feb. 23 in Schroeder Hall

24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to this bleak landscape is the wonderful Carol Menke, and with pianist Marilyn Thompson the soprano gave a splendid recital Feb. 23 in Schroeder Hall.

Ms. Menke, constantly active with performing, teaching and multiple chorus direction, offered a tour of 24 art songs in four languages, beginning with three songs on the text “Weep You No More” by Dowland, Quilter and Robert Sheldon. All were charmingly sung, especially the pensive and eerie Dowland. Floated and rhapsodic top notes characterized the Quilter, and Ms. Thompson’s rippling arpeggios the Sheldon version. The audience clapped between each, an irritating intrusion that would last the entire recital.

Preceding three Schumann songs the soprano offered comments on the afternoon’s composers in her usual charming and self-effacing way, and the initial Schumann song (“Die Blume der Ergebung”) was immediately was familiar aural territory. It was a richly colored song, as was the warmth and yearning of “Meine Rose” with Ms. Menke’s fluent modulations and Ms. Thompson’s lovely postlude. The more familiar “Lied der Suleika” completed the set with the singer choosing a judicious tempo and conveying veiled happiness.

Ms. Menke is a consummate Fauré interpreter, and “En Sourdine,” Op. 58, the “Vocalise” from 1906, and the early “La Rose” (1890) displayed her mastery. The singing of each was focused, rhapsodic and sensual, with often the piano parts proving that the composer was “old arpeggio.” The “Vocalise” was sung with wordless melismatic E Minor leaps and filigree, and the final song, a tribute to a rose, had more bass sound the piano and for a moment covered the vocal line. That’s not usual for Ms. Menke’s singing, as her voice can tend to be powerfully operatic in art song, especially with Schroeder Hall’s acoustics and today being only a third full. Diva Margaret Price’s lieder singing made the same effect on me, too potent for the humble song.

San Francisco composer Robert Sheldon’s four songs closed the first half, and the duo has recorded several of them. Ms. Thompson, a friend of the composer that died in 1995, cordially mentioned several aspects of Sheldon’s life, and proceeded with Ms. Menke to perform “Memory, Hither Come,” “Cool Is the Valley Now,” “Marsh Cry” and “My Woman Says.” The musical atmosphere was sharply different from the beguiling French diction of Fauré, and the highlight was the dark “Marsh Cry.” Here the voice and piano were often far apart, the harmonies intriguing and Ms. Menke’s voice and interpretation bordered on shrillness. Singing in the finale was bright and gay, briskly moving along and shedding some of the previous melancholy.

Acoustical clarity was improved by moving close to the stage for the second half, that began with Turina’s Poeme Forma de Canciones,” Op. 19, and the piano solo of the initial “Dedicatoria” was omitted. The singer only sporadically looked at the score in this impressionistic music that first sounded uniquely Spanish in the swirling “Cantares” with its up and down jumps and high forte ending note. The bucolic “Los Dos Miedos” had a shimmering and complicated sound, with hints of Granados and even Chopin. The up-tempo “Las Locas Por Amor” had an optimistic contrast of voice and piano lines, reminiscent of Chabrier, and an exalted character.

Four of Copland’s “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson” were each individual and in ways inspiring, as the great poet’s creations were. “Nature, My Gentlest Mother” was sung with the character of the composer’s folk themes of the 1930s and 40s, with a strong chest voice and a call and response with the piano. “The World Feels Dusty” ended in mysterious shades of gray, and Ms. Menke played off the quiet dissonances in the slow “Heart, We Will Forget Him.” Exquisite singing was heard in the “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven,” the poem unfolding with surprises and a long top note at the end. Applause was fulsome.

Powerful singing came in the closing three Strauss works, and Ms. Menke remarked that she had known the pensive “Morgen” (Op. 27, No. 4) since youth but this was her first public performance of the 1894 composition. The long piano prelude led to a glorious and autumnal ambiance, nothing rushed. In the “Wiegenlied” the singer’s control of small changes in volume was flawless and also operatic, and the closing popular “Ständchen” (Serenade, Op. 17) had all the probity of the Dickinson songs with much more warmth and passion.

No encore was offered.