Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
Opera
VERDI'S THEATRICAL LA TRAVIATA TRIUMPHS AT CINNABAR
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Symphony
CLOUDS AND PASSION: MARIN SYMPHONY'S STELLAR CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Symphony
MARIACHI MEETS ORCHESTRA AT THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Choral and Vocal
RARE MOZART COUPLING COMPLETES SONOMA BACH'S SEASON IN SCHROEDER
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, May 28, 2022
EXOTIC RUSSIAN MUSIC FEATURED IN MV PHIL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PREMIERES DAUGHERTY SKETCHES OF SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Chamber
BRAHMS-ERA TRIOS HIGHLIGHT OAKMONT CHAMBER CONCERT
by Nicholas Xelenis
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Chamber
CHAMBER GEMS OF BRAHMS IN TRIO NAVARRO'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Judy Walker
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Recital
UNIQUE ELEGANCE IN GALBRAITH GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Friday, April 29, 2022
Symphony
VSO'S ELEGANT PASTORAL SYMPHONY SHINES IN EMPRESS RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 24, 2022
REVIEW

l to r: D. Sadava, J. Stopher, C. Stewart (A. Wasserman photo)

EXOTIC RUSSIAN MUSIC FEATURED IN MV PHIL CONCERT

by Abby Wasserman
Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Mill Valley Philharmonic, in its twenty-second year, continues to mature. Founded and nurtured by Laurie Cohen, the all-volunteer ensemble is thriving under the baton of Dana Sadava, Ms. Cohen’s successor. The orchestra performed two Russian masterworks May 14 - Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic Scheherazade from 1888.

As a young person recordings of these two masterworks wore deep grooves in my musical consciousness and their rich colors and compelling rhythms excited my imagination. I was happy to see a dozen children, some as young as five, attending the concert.

The Rachmaninoff opened and featured pianist Jim Stopher. Though resembling a concerto, the Rhapsody is a conversation among equals with the piano the eloquent leading voice. The composer premiered playing the piano part in 1934. The score is daunting with pianistic leaps, bounds, marches, cascades, dreams, trills, and caresses. The mood shifts from variation to variation, each one exposing new creative territory. Mr. Stopher’s pianism was energetic and precise as the orchestra soared through lush melodies, with elegant duets between the piano line and woodwinds, brass, and strings. Ms. Sadava kept a tight hold on the orchestra with accurate attacks and releases.

The work is based on the 24th and last of Paganini's Caprices for Solo Violin, and the A minor 24th is a tour-de-force that sparkles with eclectic fireworks that show off the soloist. It’s a brilliant tapestry of shifting colors. Like the Caprice that inspired it, the majority of the 24 variations are in A minor, and in the middle variations (12-18) Rachmaninoff alternates other major and minor keys before returning to A minor in No.19. Variation 18 is the universal favorite, a tender, lilting piano motif that is repeated several times by the orchestra. Rachmaninoff said of this variation, “This one is for my agent,” and history has borne out its popularity.

Mr. Stopher, the conductor of the College of Marin Symphony, swept through the twenty-four variations with élan and brisk tempos that however did not allow for much expressive interpretation. Often the piano part was overshadowed by the orchestra’s sound. It could be a quirk of the small Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church, the Philharmonic’s venue, that the sheer musical volume of the full orchestra will dominate, but there was not much opportunity with the selected tempos for the soloist to use more rubato, which would have been welcome. Mr. Stopher brought artistic phrasing and substantial energy to his performance. When the last notes were sounded, light, quiet ones, the audience responded with a standing ovation.

Following intermission, concertmaster Charmian Stewart announced that it was Ms. Sadava’s birthday, and a vigorous arrangement of “Happy Birthday” welcomed her back to the podium for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Inspired by stories from the Arabian Nights, the work was originally programmed by the Philharmonic for 2020, but Covid-19 intervened. To finally hear this splendid piece of music live in Mill Valley was a treat.

In a verbal introduction from the stage, the conductor cited Rimsky-Korsakov’s intimate orchestral knowledge and the way he made full use of each instrument’s unique voice. Indeed, the piece glitters with musical jewels. The players performed admirably, all—winds, brass, strings, percussion. Ms. Stewart’s violin sang the eloquent voice of Scheherazade, the clever storyteller who puts off her husband, the cruel Sultan who has killed all his previous wives after their wedding night, by telling him stories, always stopping with a cliffhanger in order to keep his attention and survive for another day. The musical themes of Scheherazade and the Sultan were introduced by the orchestra beforehand and could be clearly heard throughout the roughly 49-minute performance.

The four sections of Scheherazade are The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, The Kalandar Prince, The Young Prince and the Young Princess, and Festival at Baghdad/The Sea/The Ship Breaks Against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman. The theme of the sea is brilliantly scored, and one felt keenly the sweeping motion of the waves. The whole piece seems a dialogue of natural and human forces.

Ms. Stewart’s violin performance beautifully evoked the title character, and there was fine playing by guest harpist Constance Koo and cellist Marian Schuchman. The artistry of many orchestra instruments (oboe, flute, clarinet, trombone, double bass, percussion) effectively brought the music’s fairytale scenes to life: the crashing ocean, songs of night birds and the smell of blossoming jasmine. At the last gentle notes, the audience stood once more with prolonged applause.

Afterwards, everyone was offered ice cream and pie in the church’s social hall.