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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

Chausson's D Major Concerto July 21 at the VOM Festival in Sonoma

CHAUSSON CONCERTO SHINES IN A VISIONARY'S SALON

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ernest Chausson’s four-movement Concerto in D Major for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet (1891) is neither concerto nor sonata nor symphony, but it somehow manages to be all three, especially when played with fire and conviction by an accomplished soloist.

Those incendiary and emotional elements were on vivid display at the Valley of the Moon Festival on Sunday afternoon. Playing in the surprisingly good acoustics of the Hanna Boys Center auditorium in the town of Sonoma, soloist Rachel Barton Pine and five colleagues brought down the house with an inspired performance of Chausson’s rarely heard masterpiece.

The Chausson capped a program of works associated with the Franco-American salonierre Winnaretta Singer, an heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune and a princess by marriage to Prince Edmond de Polignac. Her salon was at the center of Parisian cultural life at the turn of the 20th century, populated by Proust, Colette, Cocteau and a bevy of composers from Fauré to Stravinsky. Sylvia Kahan, author of a recent biography of Singer, introduced the program and gave valuable context for each piece.

After all the introductions, Ms. Pine rolled her wheelchair to the front of the stage and transferred to a piano bench. The quartet surrounded her like the string sections of an orchestra, and the piano loomed in the background, serving as winds, percussion, and brass.

As in a concerto, the orchestra stated the opening theme. Cellist Tanya Tomkins, the Festival’s artistic director, took the lead, leaning forward and guiding the other strings, including violist Phyllis Kamrin and violinists Anna Presler and Liana Bérubé. Pianist Eric Zivian, the Festival’s music director, blended well with the strings, aided by the crystalline tone of an elderly Chickering grand, made around the same time as the concerto.

Chausson’s introduction is dramatic, marked by a recurring three-note motive and unison fortissimos. Ms. Pine increased the drama considerably when she entered, playing a soaring line on a Guarneri violin with gorgeous, full-bodied sound. She floated effortlessly up and down the fingerboard, her bowing a sight to behold. Her playing was entrancing, particularly at the end of the movement, where she ascended to a stratospheric high note with heartfelt intensity.

The second movement, marked Pas vite (not fast), centers on a simple melody that begs for resolution. Pine propelled the group forward, ratcheting up the tension until the tune finally resolved on another high note. The next movement, marked Grave (slow, serious), serves as the emotional center of the concerto. Playing with expressive vibrato and exquisite bowing, Pine unveiled a surpassingly beautiful melody with true legato and sustained intensity.

The transcendence of the third movement ultimately gave way to the infectious vivacity of the finale, marked Tres animé (very animated). Here Ms. Pine and Mr. Zivian played occasional sonata-like passages as the others stood by. Ms. Pine was compelling throughout, and Mr. Zivian stoked the fire. What started as a concerto ended up as a full-fledged opera, with the central character baring her soul to an adoring public. The applause was thunderous.

The rest of the program paled somewhat in comparison to the Chausson. The concert opened with tenor Kyle Stegall singing five Venetian melodies by Fauré and the song cycle Venezia by Reynaldo Hahn, all accompanied by Mr. Zivian on piano.

Mr. Stegall has a refreshingly pure tone and strong control of vocal dynamics and facial expressions. He was most successful in the Fauré, which he had memorized, but less so in the Hahn, which he read mostly from the score. Playing from score is fine for instrumentalists, but it’s a problem for vocalists because it prevents them from fully engaging with the audience. In the Fauré, Mr. Stegall acted out the lyrics by waving his hands, molding his face, and grabbing the piano, among other gestures. In the Hahn, most of that fell away.

Admittedly, the rapid-fire Venetian dialect in the Hahn is tricky, but so are the French lyrics by Paul Verlaine in the Fauré. Mr. Stegall’s French was superb, with near-perfect articulation and pronunciation. His Italian was equally good, and it was remarkable to see how open-mouthed the Italian was, as opposed to the closed-mouth French. In the end, a little more memorizing on the Hahn would have gone a long way.

Princess Singer was an early fan of Wagner, so the program segued to one of his Wesendonck Lieder, originally a set of five songs for soprano and piano, with lyrics by the poet Mathilde Wesendonck. Not only was the vocal part transposed down to tenor, but the piano was replaced by a string quartet. The result was puzzling. Mr. Stegall’s German wasn’t nearly as good as his French and Italian, and he sometimes failed to articulate final syllables. Meanwhile, the string quartet did its best to imitate a piano, but an actual piano would have been a better candidate for the job.

The second half began with Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for String Quartet,” a brief foray into chamber music composed the year after “The Rite of Spring.” The three pieces hint at the possibilities of a full-fledged string quartet, with some trademark driving rhythms and ostinatos, but the pieces are over so quickly that there isn’t much chance for development. In this concert, they mainly served to set the stage for the fully developed Chausson.

[Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice]