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Chamber
PIANOSONOMA SERIES OPENS WITH ECHT GERMAN ROMANTICISM
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
PianoSonoma’s second season in SSU’s Schroeder Hall began July 26 with a mixed program under the series appellation “Vino & Vibrato.” The set of student workshops and concerts, headed by Juilliard School pianists Jessica and Michael Shinn, puts artists in residence in close contact with Sonoma Coun...
Symphony
BACH'S MIGHTY MASS ENDS MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Paula Mulligan
Saturday, July 23, 2016
For the final concert of the Mendocino Music Festival July 23 Alan Pollack conducted the Festival Orchestra and Chorus in just one work, Bach’s B Minor Mass.  The orchestra, much reduced in size to suit the needs of the sparser scoring and the character of the composition’s period, ably supported th...
Chamber
SCHUBERT'S THEMES OF YOUTH AND DEATH AT VOM MUSIC FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 23, 2016
The beautiful new Hanna Boys Center auditorium in Sonoma Valley was the setting for the July 23 concert of the Valley of the Moon (VOM) Music Festival, now in it’s second year. Directors Tanya Tomkins and Eric Zivian have created a Festival of Classical and Romantic repertoire played on period inst...
Other
LATE BEETHOVEN EXPLORED AT MMF CONCERT IN PRESTON HALL
by Paula Mulligan
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The Mendocino Music Festival performance in Preston Hall July 22 was titled “Late Beethoven,” and was the final presentation in the tribute to the composer that was part of this year’s Festival.  Pianist Susan Waterfall has been giving a series of lecture dealing with Beethoven’s life and music, and...
Symphony
HEROISM AND SUBTLETY IN ALL-BEETHOVEN MMF CONCERT
by Paula Mulligan
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Much of the emphasis of this year’s Mendocino Music Festival has been about Beethoven, and a series of small venue performances with Beethoven lectures by Festival co-director Susan Waterfall preceded the July 20 orchestra performance in the big tent on Mendocino’s main street. From the opening bar...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENT SOUND AT VOM FESTIVAL'S OPENING CONCERT AT HANNA CENTER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Every summer music festival has a unique character, and the Valley of the Moon Music Festival in Sonoma has the singular character of stressing period instruments that sound well for mostly period repertoire. In the Festival’s opening concert July 17 this was best in evidence for two Beethoven wor...
Recital
BALANCED VIRTUOSITY IN ATZINGER MMF RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Pianist Christopher Atzinger’s Mendocino Music Festival recital July 16 in the small Preston Hall looked formidable on paper larded with what might be said to be “non festival, non summer” music. There were no light Gershwin or Schubert dance works, and for some the six pieces from Brahms’ Op. 118 ...
Opera
ONE-NIGHT STAND AT MMF'S ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 15, 2016
Mozart’s Opera “Abduction from the Seraglio” has a long reputation as being tough for singers, and it was with some trepidation that I entered the Mendocino Music Festival’s massive white tent July 15 to hear and see the new production from the 30th season. Not to Worry. Conducted by Festival Arti...
Recital
OF ANGELS, DEMONS AND ENCORES
by Kayleen Asbo
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Each successive event at this summer’s Mendocino Music Festival has brought an unfolding cornucopia of delights. Elements of the exceptional three previous classical programs coalesced July 14 into a magnificent and singular tour de force when pianist Robert Henry traversed the entire topography of...
Other
ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL'S BIG TENT
by Kayleen Asbo
Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Mendocino Music Festival is highlighting Beethoven this summer, and July 10’s program in the tent could have appropriately borrowed the subtitle from Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography of the composer, Anguish and Triumph. The Festival’s second classical concert paired two Beethoven works wit...
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.