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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....
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]