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Chamber
"DR. DOROTHY" CHARMS CAS ORGAN RECITAL AUDIENCE
by James Harrod
Sunday, March 22, 2015
The silver clad dancing feet of organist Dorothy Young Riess brought excitement and inspiration to organ enthusiasts March 22 at Resurrection Santa Rosa’s Resurrection Church. Standing tall and straight, poised and beautiful, in sparkling silver and black attire, this 84-year old virtuoso musician, ...
Symphony
RAVISHING RUSSIAN MUSIC AND SOLOIST BURNISH SRS CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 21, 2015
It’s rare in a symphony concert, even one with many surprises, that a soloist takes on two disparate concertos with mostly identical results. But it was exactly the outcome of pianist Olga Kern’s appearance March 21 with the Santa Rosa Symphony in Weill Hall. Surprises? The first came with her po...
Symphony
A TROIKA TO REMEMBER
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 21, 2015
At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia was home to three extraordinary composers--Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Stravinsky--whose stars continue to shine. Rachmaninoff carried on the Romantic tradition, Stravinsky tried to annihilate it, and Prokofiev landed somewhere in the middle, clinging to tra...
Chamber
TCHAIKOVSKY'S BIG TRIO WAS FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Grief and love are the catalytic converters of great art. On March 14 an almost full house in the Occidental Performing Arts Center was treated to a passionate evening of grief and love in musical outpouring from a terrific (yes, hot) award-winning ensemble. The Lysander Trio’s (named for a charac...
Recital
PERAHIA'S INTENSITY SHINES IN WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 07, 2015
Murray Perahia has built a long pianistic career based on performances of discernment, classical structure and impeccable taste. His playing always exudes a refinement and lapidary attention to musical detail. And so it was in his March 7 Weill Hall debut recital before an audience of 900, with a c...
Chamber
WINDS BLOW SWEETLY IN WEST COUNTY
by Philip Beard
Sunday, March 01, 2015
March 1 was the perfect date for a rousing wind-groups concert at the Occidental Center for the Arts. Two local groups, the Coastal Winds Woodwind Quintet and the 5th Avenue Brass Quintet, did themselves proud before a near-sellout crowd. The performance was to benefit the host Center, currently r...
Choral and Vocal
A DEFINITIVE ST. MATTHEW AT ABS BELVEDERE CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, February 27, 2015
The American Bach Soloists performed Bach’s timeless St. Matthew Passion Feb. 27 to a sold-out audience at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. In the account of Christ’s last hours as set forth by evangelist Matthew, the Passion stands supreme, beside the Mass in B Minor, as Bach’s finest creation. ...
Symphony
HEALDSBURG PHILHARMONIA PLAYS THE RAVEN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Les Pfutzenreuter is a conductor that gets around, moving from his Ukiah base at Mendocino College and the Ukiah Symphony to festival and concert appearances with many orchestras. February 22 found him with the Healdsburg Philharmonia in that City’s Raven Theater with works of Copland and Tcha...
Symphony
CHAMPAGNE ORGY OF SWISS ORCHESTRA'S SOUND IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Orchestras on tour usually perform hefty display works to showoff their virtuosity and power. And so it was with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR) Feb. 14 in Weill Hall. Big works, weighty display. And in a surprise the compositions by Stravinsky and Ravel in the second half did the rare th...
Symphony
LENGTH? HEAVENLY LENGTH AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 14, 2015
A Bruckner Symphony performance can be a demanding task for both the orchestra and audience, as each of the nine are long and musically wandering. But not all that wander are lost, as the Sonoma County Philharmonic proved in their Feb. 15 concert in the Santa Rosa High School Performing Arts Center...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Sonoma Classical Music Society / Sunday, March 25, 2012
Nigel Armstrong, violin. Marilyn Thompson, piano.

Violinist Nigel Armstrong

ARMSTRONG BRINGS DOWN THE HOUSE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2012

Local boy makes good was the operative theme March 26 when violinist Nigel Armstrong played a recital before a jammed Andrews Hall in downtown Sonoma, the event produced by the Sonoma Chamber Music Society. From Mr. Armstrong’s initial entrance with pianist Marilyn Thompson to a final raucous encore, the audience seemed to hang on every note and bodily movement of the young violinist.

The first half, consisting of Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata” and the Debussy Sonata, was problematical. Andrews Hall is not a kind acoustical space, with its high ceiling, plaster walls and surprisingly almost zero reverberation. The result was heavy piano dominance. Frequently one saw Mr. Armstrong’s flashing bow but not enough sound from him, especially in the scherzo and the finale (Rondo) pizzicato. Tempos in the Spring Sonata were moderate, the interpretation fluent and impressive in the long line of the Adagio, but on the whole a routine performance without special flair.

Debussy’s 1917 masterwork in G Minor, his last fully completed work, received some lovely playing that underscored its harmonic ambiguities. Mr. Armstrong’s soft playing in the opening Allegro Vivo was lovely, and in the high tessitura of the "Intèrmede" his vibrato widened but varied little, the ending soaring over a hushed crowd that included three rows of stage seats.

In a program change, the violinist skipped Ernst’s “Last Rose of Summer” variations and played the four-movement Ysäye solo Sonata No 2. Mr. Armstrong’s affinity with virtuoso works was on display in this composition, with many quotes from Bach (Third Partita) and the "Dies Irae" theme. The Sarabande was especially bouncy, the pizzicato and double stop effects performed with clean articulation. Mr. Armstrong played the "Les Furies" finale letting in a lot of air, the short motifs interrupted by rests and vigorously accented. It was a highlight of the afternoon.

Ms. Thompson then returned to the piano, whose lid had gone from short stick to no stick, and played Faure’s fetching Op. 75 Andante with the violinist. Instrumental balance had markedly improved, and the performance was sui generis Faure. Though rarely programmed, the piece is instantly recognizable, and it was performed without score, as were all the pieces in the second part. Faure's melancholic loveliness mated well with the following Tchaikovsky Op. 42 Melody, the third of three short pieces from an 1878 Suite the composer wrote at his patron’s country estate. The interpretation lacked rhythmic flexibility as musical schmaltz in the Melody is highly desirable!

Mr. Armstrong’s signature piece, Saint-Saëns’ "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," concluded the formal program. It was originally written for violin and orchestra, so the piano transcription is a daunting combination of fiery instrumental skips and slides for the fiddle, and it drew from the Ms. Thompson her most forceful and bass heavy playing of the program. A thunderous standing ovation was the result.

But Mr. Armstrong was not done yet, and in an encore anticipated by many in the hall he played Corigliano’s "Stomp." This solo work was commissioned by the 14th Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition in 2011, to be played by all competitors, with the sheet music received by each shortly before the Moscow Competition. It’s a whirlwind of dissonant notes and chopped phrases, and to everyone’s delight involved briefly playing the violin behind the back and resounding right-food stomps in various sequences. Intoxicating!

Needless to say, it brought down the house and the artist reveled in the warm affection and excitement his playing brought to his hometown fans.

Robert Hayden contributed to this review.