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Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony and Sonoma State University Symphonic Chorus / Sunday, December 02, 2018
Jayce Ogren, conductor. Nokuthula Ngwenyama, viola; Jenny Bent, chorus director

Conductor Jayce Ogren

SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018

Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-witted reviewer made the connection.

Instead of having Tell stride on stage and shoot the apple off his son’s head, the orchestra offered a bull’s-eye performance that split the overture right down the middle. Audiences of a certain age are accustomed to hearing only the latter part of the piece, where the Lone Ranger gallops across the screen shouting “Hi ho, Silver”; but there’s much more to it than that.

Principal cellist Adelle-Akika Kearns opened with a beautifully played solo, accompanied at times by four of her cello colleagues. Her tone was gorgeous, her vibrato smooth and her long trills outstanding. Next came solid work from the trombones, a lovely flute and English horn duet, and the heraldic trumpet entry that brings on the Lone Ranger. Guest conductor Jayce Ogren set a furious pace but proved adept at controlling dynamics and eliciting meticulous playing despite all the frenzy. Boisterous applause followed the rousing performance.

So far so good, but then the Swiss legend gave way to an English melancholic of far less heroic proportions. Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy,” based on Lord Byron’s semi-autobiographical poem “Childe Harold,” is a symphony masquerading as a concerto. The viola, ably played here by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, takes on the role of Harold observing various Italian tableaux. While the viola part is sometimes of interest, it is nowhere near as virtuosic or impassioned as true viola concertos by Bartok, Walton and other modern composers.

Ngwenyama spent most of her time playing long notes or arpeggios, with very few dazzling runs or assertive solos. She also hampered her stage presence by playing from a computerized score, which she kept advancing with a foot pedal. In addition, Berlioz’s awkward orchestration often had her doubling lines played by other orchestral sections, particularly the French horns. Her strings vibrated and her bow moved, but the horns drowned her out.

The viola is relatively prominent in the first two movements, but it begins to fade out in the third, deferring to the English horn for a prominent solo. By the fourth movement, the viola plays almost nothing except for a brief passage near the end, all of which entails a considerable amount of standing around.

Perhaps a better way to perform “Harold in Italy” would be to place the soloist in the principal viola spot inside the orchestra. The soloist would still be the main character, but only within a larger context that hides the long stretches of viola silence.

The soloists in Vivaldi’s “Gloria” also did a fair amount of sitting around, but that is de rigeur in works for orchestra, chorus and soloists. In a gesture to Baroque performance practice, the orchestra was reduced to 30 players, all but four of them strings. (The non-strings were a trumpet, an oboe, a bassoon and a small organ.) In contrast, the chorus remained at full strength, with about 70 singers from Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College arrayed on the stage behind the orchestra.

The numbers worked to the choir’s advantage, allowing them to be heard clearly at all times. They enhanced their clarity by careful enunciation of the Latin text and by blending well as a group. The bass, tenor, alto and soprano sections were evenly balanced, and nobody stuck out.

The choir’s singing in the opening “Gloria in excelsis Deo” was sprightly and vivacious, and their performance of the subsequent “Et in terra pax” was restful and calm. Ogren did an admirable job of balancing the singers and the instrumentalists, offering clear signals and expressive hand gestures.

The solos began with a wonderful rendition of the “Laudamus te” soprano duet by Sonoma State alumnae Jennifer Thuman and Esther Rayo. Their voices were radiant, and they projected well in the large space. After another chorus, Thuman followed up with a sublime “Domine Deus” displaying a well-controlled vibrato and solid trills. The final soloist, mezzo-soprano Chris Fritzche, also impressed in another “Domine Deus” and the penultimate “Qui sedes.”

The chorus had the last word with a rousing “Quoniam tu solus sanctus,” leading to an emphatic and life-affirming “Amen.” The applause was long and loud.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.