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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
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, May 5, 2019
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Alexander Toradze, piano

Pianist Alexander Toradze

ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 5, 2019

An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert, led by conductor emeritus Bruno Ferrandis.

The movement in question was the central Andante of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a crystal-clear mountain lake perched between two torrential Allegros. The elfish Mr. Toradze, a last-minute substitute for an ailing Olga Kern, established a commanding presence in the opening bars of the first movement and never let go. Planted firmly on the bench and staring down at the keys, he projected well and generated lots of volume, aided by Ferrandis’s strong command of orchestral dynamics. Mr. Toradze’s runs up and down the keyboard were energetic and flawless, and he was wonderfully responsive to his fellow players.

Shostakovich wrote the concerto for his pianist son, and the first movement is a playful romp designed to show off the piano’s brilliance amid some inventive orchestration. The movement ended with wild applause followed by laughter as Toradze pretended to shake out his hands after their strenuous exertions. The laughter turned to pin-drop silence moments later as the orchestra established a lush background, followed by a series of magically suspended notes from the keyboard, a la Rachmaninoff. Mr. Toradze played his haunting melodies at the edge of audibility, floating above his accompaniment like a beneficent cloud. The end, when it came, was all too soon.

Mr. Toradze then segued effortlessly into the concerto’s sprightly finale. He replaced his languid sustains with a virtual perpetual motion machine, racing around the keyboard faster and faster until he achieved warp speed, bringing the orchestra along with him. A thrilling timpani flourish brought the proceedings to an end.

The raucous audience insisted on an encore, so Mr. Toradze asked which movement they would like to hear again. The consensus was for the second movement, even though some audience members lobbied for a complete repeat. The second time through was even better than the first. All you had to do was close your eyes and float away.

Before the Toradze fireworks, the Symphony set the mood for an afternoon of Russian music with a beguiling performance of Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique, an early work with several hints of the genius to come. One hint is the characteristic Stravinsky sound of sharply etched winds against a shimmering wave of strings. Others include persistent syncopation and unusual orchestration.

Despite these hints of greatness, the Scherzo lacks an overarching narrative to tie the diverse musical strands together. The orchestra played well, but the piece sounded episodic and at times meandering.

The Tchaikovsky symphony (No. 5) that ended the program was another story altogether. The clarinet duet that opened the first movement, followed by magisterial lines from the strings, announced the beginning of a long journey, one marked by hardship and emotional upheaval. Ferrandis was full of nervous energy as he exhorted the strings to apply more vibrato and the orchestra to intone more forcefully. The result was deeply expressive playing, as the band leaned into syncopations, crescendos and a long series of cadences. The repeated ascents and descents seemed to mirror Tchaikovsky’s fervid mental state, where moments of elation lead inexorably to precipitous declines.

The French horn solo at the beginning of the slow second movement was beautifully played by Caitlyn Smith Franklin. Her mellow, fluid and expressive sound led to an equally rich melody in the cellos. The drama continued as Mr. Ferrandis encouraged rhythmic flexibility in interpreting Tchaikovsky’s dramatic score. The strings spoke as one, but the mid-movement brass fanfare served as the emotional peak.

The famous waltz in the third movement carried listeners into more familiar Tchaikovsky territory, with one inventive dance after another marked by rapid handoffs between the orchestral sections. The strings kept up a furious pace, and the long bassoon solo by Carla Wilson helped tie the disparate elements together.

The tragic theme of the final movement is stated at the outset, and the rest of the piece attempts to turn that tragedy into triumph. The pace soon quickened, and the players once again launched into a series of cadences, each one marked by meteoric rises and rapid falls. Through it all, the orchestra played impeccably, transporting the listener on a rolling wave of sound. A frenzied ending, marked by blaring brass and thunderous timpani, led to a final statement that felt at once heroic and ambiguous.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]