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Recital
IMPECCABLE ARTISTIC TASTE IN ANTON NEL SRJC RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Reporting on a recital by the Austin-based pianist Anton Nel is a predictably satisfying task. His playing Oct. 19 in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium mirrored a recital on the same stage nearly two years ago and showcased a high level of professionalism and artistry. Beginning with Mozart’s D Major "Dupor...
Symphony
BOUNDLESS BAROQUE ARTISTRY IN LIVE OAK SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Sunday, October 19, 2014
On October 19 the Live Oak Baroque Orchestra, directed by baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, appeared in the first of several concerts it is to present at Schroeder Hall in Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. The new 250-seat recital space is the perfect venue for chamber music, whi...
Chamber
AUTUMNAL BRAHMS IN WEILL CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERT
by Nicki Bell and Sonia Tubridy
Saturday, October 18, 2014
If you were in Weill Oct. 18 you might have experienced heaven, a Brahms heaven, when New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center played an all-Brahms concert in the Hall’s MasterCard Performance series. It was late Brahms which means rich emotional expression and deep and fluid themes. The...
Recital
PIANISM OF SUBSTANCE AND CONTROL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has had several past Sonoma County appearances, but her Oct. 16 Music at Oakmont recital exhibited a new and attractive level of resolute programming, instrumental mastery and impressive musicianship. She played three substantial works, including the opening Second Engl...
Symphony
BEYOND THE GOLDEN GATE
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Three works composed within three years of each other were programmed in the San Francisco Symphony’s concert in Weill Hall on Oct. 16, but each was sharply different. Before a nearly full house, conductor Stéphane Denève opened with Barber’s iconic Adagio for Strings, Op. 11, in a compelling but ...
Symphony
LATE-INNING HEROICS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Much like a home baseball team that scores the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, the Santa Rosa Symphony saved the best for last in its Sunday afternoon concert on Oct. 12. They led off with a tentative but ultimately captivating reading of Richard Strauss's "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks,...
Recital
MAGICAL GUITAR MASTERY IN KANENGISER'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Chloe Tucker
Friday, October 10, 2014
William Kanengiser is known to many in the classical guitar world as one of today’s most virtuosic players, and his recital October 10 in Sonoma State’s new Schroeder Hall was a fine testimony to his stellar reputation. Mr. Kanengiser took the stage with all the charming felicity of a player who si...
Symphony
PROPULSIVE BERLIOZ AND CONSUMMATE CONDUCTOR STAR AT MARIN SYMPHONY
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
It’s not an easy task to upstage the virtuoso cellist Zuill Bailey, but Marin Symphony conductor Alasdair Neale did it convincingly in a Sept. 30 concert at the Marin Center Auditorium. Mr. Bailey didn’t easily relinquish the starring role and played an eloquent and urbane performance in St. Saëns’...
Symphony
INTOXICATING ORCHESTRAL SONORITIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 28, 2014
For the first Sunday afternoon concert of their 16th season, on Sept. 28, the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented an all-Russian program that spotlighted intoxicating orchestral sonorities and heroic conducting from Norman Gamboa. He opened with a stunning performance of Kabalevsky's snappy overtur...
Recital
THE BALLADE OF JUHO POHJONEN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Planning a piano program around a single theme or name can be tricky because cutesy connections can easily displace artistic merit. Fortunately, Juho Pohjonen's Sept. 14 recital in the inaugural "Sundays at Schroeder" concert was a textbook example of a successful theme--ballades--supported by wonde...
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.