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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Sunday, July 15, 2018
Marc Schachman, oboe; Tekla Cunningham and Carla Moore, violin; Kati Kyme and Toma Iliev, viola; William Skeen and Tanya Tomkins, cello; Eric Zivian, piano

Festival Musicians July 15 Playing Mozart Quintet (Voices of Music Photo)

VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER

by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018

A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few challenges and many rewards to the modern ear.

Festival founders and co-directors Tanya Tomkins and Eric Zivian inserted an unfamiliar treasure by Johann Baptist Vanhal between two familiar works by his younger contemporaries: Beethoven’s C-Sharp Minor Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2, and Mozart’s Viola Quintet in G Minor from 1787. All three men overlapped in Vienna during its prominence as the musical center of Europe.

We’re accustomed to hearing Beethoven on the modern piano, with its long tonal decay and brilliant resonance, so hearing Mr. Zivian play Beethoven on the small Mozart-era piano brought something fresh to savor. As Prof. Nicolas Mathew explained in a pre-concert lecture, music of the day was performed in small rooms to small groups.

They would have found Mr. Zivian’s instrument’s crystalline notes and lightness of sound perfect, but even in the medium-sized Hanna Auditorium, his sensitive interpretation felt intimate, expressing the sonata’s profound emotions. It was written in 1801 in an improvisatory style (“Sonata quasi una fantasia” is Beethoven’s title) when the composer was experiencing the anguish and fear of impending deafness. The iconic first movement (adagio sostenuto) that prompted a music critic to suggest the sobriquet “Moonlight,” has the rhythm and mood of a funeral march. Mr. Zivian played with delicacy at a tempo that seemed just right, holding the damper pedal (operated by the knee) throughout as Beethoven directed in his score, creating a subtle drone of sound that heightened the lament’s poignancy.

The second allegretto movement was almost insouciant in mood, though intimation of loss lurked at the edges. In the third movement, presto agitato, Mr. Zivian maximized Beethoven’s anguish and fury. Every note sounded with clarity; there was no muddiness of sound. Toward the end of the movement, after two low bass chords that seemed to express hopelessness, the pianist paused for a few beats. Then energy returned with the final furious runs and the end was like a pledge not to give up, shouted angrily into the wind.

The Vanhal Quartet for oboe and strings in F Major, Op. 7, No. 1, should be performed more often. It’s a celebration of great beauty by a prolific composer who was once the toast of Vienna—someone Mozart emulated and Haydn admired. The ensemble of Marc Schachman, oboe, violinist Carla Moore, Kati Kyme, viola, and William Skeen, cello, blended seamlessly and generously. The quartet is in four movements, and in the first allegro moderato a sweet, lilting melody is introduced which the oboe picks up and carries forward. Close harmonies follow in duets and ensemble playing. The second movement is simply glorious, one of the loveliest I’ve heard ever, and through which Mr. Schachman’s oboe line wove a spell. The third menuetto-triomovement began as a straitlaced dance, moving into something free-flowing and pastoral, with especially lovely pairings of oboe and violin. The fourth movement (presto) was a startling and harmonious explosion of sound. The appreciative audience, presumably most of whom were hearing Vanhal’s music for the first time, brought the ensemble back for three curtain calls.

A long intermission followed. The audience then heard Mozart’s String Quintet (Viola Quintet) in G Minor, K. 516. Before beginning, the players – Toma Iliev and Kati Kyme, violas; Tekla Cunningham and Carla Moore, violins; and cellist Tomkins – joined Prof. Mathew in speaking from the stage about the quintet form. Ms. Moore commented that this quintet is orchestral, with the extra viola filling out the sound and Ms. Tomkins revealed that the 1787 piece, so full of pathos and emotion, is rife with intimations of death and mourning.

The first movement, allegro, contains a plaintive theme that begins in unison and then passes from violin to violas to cello. Ms. Cunningham’s violin playing was unutterably sweet and rich, and Ms. Tomkins’ expressive use of rubato throughout the movement gave a poignant and emotional grounding to the music. The balance between the instruments was perfect and clear as they blended and then gave phrases and themes to one another. Particularly thrilling were the duets between Ms. Kyme and Mr. Iliev. The second movement Minuetto was played dramatically, with lyrical passages sliced by violent, accented chords. The third movement (adagio ma non troppo) is a funereal lament. Ms. Cunningham’s playing took the lead, and the quartet in turn followed. The depth of sorrow in this interpretation was heartrending.

The concluding movement, adagio-allegro, began with a lovely singing and deftly phrased lament by Ms. Cunningham. Surprisingly, the mood lightened and at the end the key shifted into G major rather than returning to the plaintive G minor, so that the piece ends on a positive and consoling affirmation.

It was an inspired and inspiring performance, and many in the audience gave a standing ovation. Following multiple curtain calls members of the audience and musicians met for gratis food and wine in the Center’s sunny patio.