April 4, 2016: Colorful Falla and Provocative Britten Works in SRS Weill Hall Concerts
By: Terry McNeill, April 4, 2016 - San Francisco Classical Voice
Current fashion in orchestra season marketing showcases themes, and it’s de rigueur now, from the fledgling Sonoma County Philharmonic to the august San Francisco Symphony. Some of these themes are inane, but the Santa Rosa Symphony’s set of three concerts beginning April 2, with the event title “Rhythmic Vitality,” was singularly appropriate.
In the April 4 Weill Hall concert Britten’s Cello Symphony (Op. 68) and Falla’s complete music from the ballet “The Three Cornered Hat” had rhythmic interest by the truckload. With cellist Zuill Bailey performing the demanding but often introspective solo, the Britten work from 1963 was provocative. It’s constructed in an unusual format of four movements, the final two linked by an instrumental cadenza, and though loved by virtuosos it has not been popular with the public.
Mr. Bailey made a strong case for the Symphony, working with conductor Bruno Ferrandis to considerable effect. It needs to be said that this is a difficult piece to initially like, and much audience reaction in the lobby at intermission seemed to confirm this. Surprisingly the soloist used both a microphone and a score, playing much of the work with little vibrato that allowed the upper register partials to clearly sound. One needed to look elsewhere for easy tunes, and Mr. Bailey, who I have admired in recent Napa and San Rafael performances, was at his best in the ruminating first-movement phrases and slashing attacks over flute and bassoon parts, and a knockout cadenza. From a balcony seat the cello tone sounded muddy and indistinct at places, contrasting with the lucid and sonorous orchestra.
Much low-drone cello playing and extended vibrato was heard in the Presto and adagio and the musical sun came out in the finale. Here the music rises to a luminous finish, and perhaps audience comprehension leading to a standing ovation.
Falla’s wonderful 1919 Ballet score received a performance of orchestral color and sparkling effects. The audience of 950 seemed to physically move with the unfolding of piquant Andalusian folk tunes and brassy sway, something foreign in the Britten. The music throughout suppresses string importance (save for bass and cello) and is a tour de force for winds. There was lovely playing from the clarinet (Roy Zajac), bassoon (Carla Wilson), oboist Laura Reynolds and Stacy Pelinka’s piccolo.
Mr. Ferrandis drew some exceptional Spanish colors from his orchestra, shaping the clarinet and harp (Dan Levitan) duo, the abbreviated piano parts and a scintillating pizzicato accelerando in the Seguidillas section. This piece needs the sure hand that Mr. Ferrandis has, always the picture of control and energy on the podium. The two vocal passages, totaling just 85 seconds, were sung by mezzo-soprano Bonnie Brooks, and past without much notice in the lush 40-minute composition.
Opening the concert was New York composer Daniel Brewbaker’s Blue Fire, a 15-minute exploration of contrast and instrumental tint. The composer was in attendance and took three curtain calls, and spoke elegantly during the pre-concert talk alongside Mr. Bailey and Mr. Ferrandis. The 2013 premiere was at a Napa Valley summer festival.
As with many freshly-minted orchestra works, it was heavy with loud timpani and brass, but there were rhapsodic and lyrical sections with echoes of Bernstein and movie scores. Movements (I counted two) are constantly shifting, with standout parts for tuba (Scott Choate), Ms. Reynold’s oboe and Mr. Zajac. The percussion and timpani sections were busy and chimes and marimba parts were distinct, unlike an inaudible piano part. Often in newer music the pianist can be seen but not heard.
Blue Fire ended with a long and orderly climax in the strings, a counterpoint to the frequent previous offbeat brass phrases and insistent incisive rhythms. As with the balance of the program it was Mr. Ferrandis’ triumph, his diligent command directing every facet of the music.
February 21, 2016: Ever Westward Eternal Rider
By: Steve Osborn, February 21, 2016 - San Francisco Classical Voice
EVER WESTWARD ETERNAL RIDER
Like her violin virtuoso colleagues, Rachel Barton Pine can make herself heard above the din of a full orchestra without noticeable effort; but what made her Feb. 21 performance with the Santa Rosa Symphony memorable was how softly she played. Although she dispatched the forte and fortissimo passages in the Beethoven D Major concerto with élan, her intensity increased markedly the softer she became. The most gripping points in each movement were the trills and other filigrees in the upper registers, which she played on the very edge of audibility to a rapt Weill Hall audience.
Any musician can play loudly, but those who can play quietly without any loss of energy or tempo are rare indeed. By the same token, any competent soloist can play all the notes of the Beethoven concerto, but those who can make sense of them and express their meaning are few. In this department, Pine was somewhat lacking. She hit all the notes, to be sure, but her performance was occasionally choppy and lacked fluidity.
Instead of merging one phrase or musical idea into the next, Ms. Pine often separated them, disrupting the forward motion and draining some of the drama. More often than not, however, the beauty of individual passages shone through. Her cadenza for the first movement was a treat, as was the lovely duet with bassoonist Carla Wilson in the slow movement. Ms. Pine seemed finally to relax in the playful finale, which was marked by a forceful and convincing drive to the conclusion.
The applause was significant, so the violinist obliged with an encore: the Andante from Bach’s second sonata for unaccompanied violin. Here again the pianissimo was bewitching, and it combined with a steady pulse on the lower strings to ravishing effect.
More ravishment appeared in the second half, in the form of Bruckner’s unfinished Symphony No. 9. This colossal work lasts over an hour, and that’s just for the first three movements. Who knows how long it would have been had Bruckner lived to complete the finale?
Ultimately, time is immaterial in Bruckner’s final work. The structure he employs in all three movements resembles nothing so much as a series of ocean waves, beginning in a valley and rising inexorably to a peak before crashing down again. The ascents and descents are most often chromatic, with a lushly romantic aura: chromanticism. Bruckner’s technique may be chromantic, but his content is most often dark and dramatic, even sinister. He incessantly combines and recombines short motifs that lead ever onward. His quest seems to be for some deep, hidden meaning in the world of sound.
Conductor Bruno Ferrandis displayed a firm grasp of Bruckner’s score, carefully guiding his players through the various phrases, crescendos and decrescendos, accelerandos and ritards. He most often conducted with two symmetrical hands, drawing out a foreboding, intense and elemental sound.
The first movement was spine-tingling, resolving in the home key at the very peak of a wave. The intensity only increased in the second, which features a devilish seven-note figure--a triplet and four march steps on a single note--that Gustav Holst later appropriated for the Mars section of “The Planets.” In Holst, the figure conjures up the god of war, but here it seemed a symbol of onrushing fate. Again, Mr. Ferrandis and company played the score to maximum effect, creating a tremendous, fiery sound with sustained energy.
The third movement proved even more gripping. The playing was muscular and assured, and the orchestration was dazzling. The conductor kept all the iterations of the theme intact, leading to a startling dissonant chord that resolves into a serene passage at the end.
The performance was one of the Symphony’s most profound efforts in recent years, rivaling anything they’ve done in that time. An otherwise unremarkable Sunday afternoon turned into a thrilling exploration of uncharted musical territory, filled with both apocalyptic fury and rays of hope.
January 12, 2016: Pure Gold from Caroline Goulding and Santa Rosa Symphony
By: Steve Osborn, January 12, 2016 - San Francisco Classical Voice
Could Mei-Ann Chen be a candidate to replace Bruno Ferrandis at the helm of the Santa Rosa Symphony when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season? If so, she would be a strong contender. Her impressive guest conducting at the orchestra’s Jan. 10 concert at Weill Hall in Sonoma State’s Green Center was overshadowed, however, by a staggering performance from the young violinist Caroline Goulding, who played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto to perfection.
Goulding is the most impressive violin soloist this reviewer has heard since Hilary Hahn burst on the scene more than 20 years ago. Goulding’s technique is impeccable, her intonation superb, her bow arm a wonder, and her fingers anatomical marvels. Her musicianship, however, is what sets her apart from her many technically gifted colleagues.
Barely into her 20s, Goulding plays like a seasoned musician, alert to all the subtle nuances and possibilities of the music. No matter how many fully articulated notes fly off her violin, the important ones always come to the fore. The phrase always takes precedence, and the sound is consistently gorgeous.
With her mop of curly blond hair and a red dress, Goulding looked like a pillar of fire capable of igniting anything she played. The only blemish to her otherwise radiant appearance was a music stand with a score. One can only guess how much more engaging her performance would have been without that memory aid. (To be fair, Goulding is performing violin concertos by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Glazunov, Paganini, Prokofiev, Bruch, and Ligeti during her jam-packed 2015-16 season, to say nothing of multiple recitals and other performances.)
In the Tchaikovsky, Goulding displayed an elegant, room-filling sound from the outset, easily bringing the softest passages to the remotest corners of Weill Hall. Her body was in constant motion, crouching forward during the virtuosic passages and swaying from side to side during the emotive ones. Her tone was exquisite, even in the highest registers and the many harmonics called for in the score.
Meanwhile, Chen had the orchestral dynamics firmly in control. The orchestra never once overpowered Goulding, and their playing in the softer passages was well below pianissimo. Both Chen and Goulding took their time, letting phrases linger before transitioning to the next. Goulding’s cadenza in the first movement was stupendous, as complete a musical experience as one could wish for.
Goulding, Chen, and the orchestra sustained the same high level of musicianship throughout the concerto. The fireworks of the first movement gave way to the delicacy and luxuriance of the second and then the awe-inspiring dances of the third. The standing ovation at the end was sustained but sadly produced no encore. Nonetheless, we’re sure to hear from Goulding again.
Earlier, Chen set the mood for the afternoon with an invigorating performance of contemporary Chinese composer An-Lun Huang’s Saibei Dance. The melodies, inspired by Chinese folk songs, were sprightly, and the orchestration was inventive; but it was all over in four minutes, barely enough for a taste.
The second half offered a better opportunity to observe Chen’s conducting skill, with a performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. Chen led with economical movements and an easy-to-follow beat. The musicians appeared to be well-rehearsed, with good unison playing from the strings and excellent balance between the orchestral sections.
The performance of the first movement was energetic, but the full sound of the orchestra didn’t emerge until the second, where sharply delineated phrases and assured pace led to full resonance and shimmering beauty. The graceful waltzes of the third movement were taken a bit too slowly, but individual sections were often serene.
All the stops came out in the finale, which the trumpets announced with a stirring fanfare. The low strings maintained that energy, and the atmosphere became supercharged when the full orchestra joined in, with standout playing by principal flutist Kathleen Lane Reynolds. Although not as magical as the Tchaikovsky performance, Chen got everything she wanted out of the players, and then some.
Steve Osborn, a medical writer and editor by day, moonlights as a violist, singer, and music critic.
November 8, 2015: Two Steps Forward, One Back
By: Steve Osborn, November 8, 2015 - Classical Sonoma
Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 7 concert ran the gamut, not only from new to old, but also from impassioned to inert. The new was Gyorgy Kurtag’s “...quasi una fantasia...”; the old were the Schumann piano concerto and Brahms’ first symphony. The Brahms and Kurtag performances were lively, but the Schumann was moribund.
Let’s start with the lively ones. “...quasi una fantasia...” was clearly unusual even before the music began. Instead of the standard orchestral seating arrangement, the chairs were shuffled around into five groups. The first group was a semicircle of chairs and piano at the front of the stage. Behind that semicircle, four other groups of chairs were scattered about the stage in a seemingly random pattern.
Another deviation from the norm was the absence of musicians, even when the lights went down. After a brief pause, they finally filed onto the stage and settled into their respective groups. The semicircle comprised a handful of strings and the piano on stage right, woodwinds in the middle, and brass on stage left, opposite the strings. The other groups were mostly percussion, but one was a collection of harmonica players.
Conductor Bruno Ferrandis briefly explained the four short movements of the piece, and then the musicians got to work. The sound from the beginning was distinctive, with a halo of percussion around slow and low descending notes beginning in the piano. The harmonicas and a marimba added to the unusual texture, which was simultaneously thick and delicate.
The second movement began with heavy percussion and then segued into the third, a deliberate march, as if to a funeral. Nearly all the instruments soloed briefly as the march proceeded relentlessly in the background. The last movement featured dense sonorities that required full attention. The descending scales appeared again, resolving into a final wash of sound from the harmonicas. “...quasi una fantasia...” lasts just nine minutes, but each one is packed with innovation and surprise. It was the perfect foil for the older works on the program, demonstrating that contemporary works can equal or even surpass the classics.
One of those classics occupied the second half. Brahms’ first symphony is an oft-repeated gem of which audiences never seem to tire. Perhaps that’s because all the parts are so authoritative and finely honed that they feel like the building blocks of a mighty fortress. Musicians, however, still have to breathe life into the parts and make sure they fit together.
The musicians at hand proved up to the task, digging in with gusto from the opening bars. The strings began each new phrase with an emphatic down-bow and bowed in unison with nary an outlier. Ferrandis infused the performance with drama by pushing tempi and eliciting pinpoint crescendos and diminuendos. At one point the syncopations got so intricate that several musicians began tapping their toes.
The unanimity of sound and pace was impressive, and the many solos were a delight. One of the standouts was the violin and horn duet in the slow second movement. Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg hit all the high notes, and Alex Camphouse's French horn articulation and phrasing were superb. The symphony hurtled forward with only brief pauses between the movements and really began picking up steam in the finale. The spark was the resonant and accelerating pizzicato at the opening, followed by heroic playing from the horns and woodwinds, and then the memorable theme. Ferrandis has a real gift for driving the orchestra forward, and drive them he did, right to the spine-tingling close.
In Schumann’s A Minor concerto, piano soloist Pedja Muzijevic was technically perfect but demonstrated little passion or projection. He sat straight at the keyboard and came down heavy on the pedal. The sound that emerged from the lid was precise but curiously muted, almost as if under water. At times the orchestra drowned him out.
Muzijevic's technique, however, was awesome. His fingers flew across the keys and fluttered so rapidly that they often seemed to be floating above the keys rather than striking them. All the notes were there, but they never ignited. Schumann is a composer who demands fire, yet there were no flames in evidence, not even smoke, and the performance became a mere collection of notes.
October 13, 2015: Piano Duo Syncs With Santa Rosa Symphony in Concertos
By: Steve Osborn, October 13, 2015 - San Francisco Classical Voice
The Santa Rosa Symphony season opener was a double bill in more ways than two. It featured two piano concertos and two pianos played by two identical twins. Pianist sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton are virtually indistinguishable from afar, and they also wore the same dresses. They were even more indistinguishable in their playing and technique. They and the orchestra came together for an evening of superior music-making on Sunday at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center.
The Naughton’s synchronicity is the essential quality for a piano duo. Instead of contending with a pair of divergent interpretations, conductor Bruno Ferrandis and the orchestra enjoyed the luxury of playing with one super-pianist with four arms and 20 fingers.
The unanimity was apparent from the opening measures of Mozart’s Concerto For Two Pianos, K. 365. Playing gracefully together, they traded emotionally matched lines back and forth, with neither trying to outdo the other.
The Mozart concerto, suffused with incandescent melodies, is a wonderful piece, and it received a wonderful performance. The orchestra projected a warm sound, creating an expansive backdrop for the Naughtons’ remarkable artistry. Each movement was sharply etched, with rock-solid playing. The only flaw — and it was a minor one — was the Naughtons’ restricted dynamic range in the last movement. The soft passages could have been softer and the loud much louder.
In Francis Poulenc’s Concerto For Two Pianos, one of the sisters’ calling cards, their playing was exemplary. This rarely heard concerto is a model of musical invention and vivacity. It begins fervently, with rapid call and response between the two pianos, and between the pianos and orchestra. The interchange was playful and rollicking.
The complexity of the first movement was balanced by the simplicity of the second. The Naughtons played an ethereal, looping duet that sounded almost minimalist in its incessant repetitions.
The final movement began with a piano solo that sounded straight out of Mozart. After an orchestral response, the subsequent solo sounded like Beethoven. The next time around, it was Chopin. This constant shift of musical personalities was matched by a stunning variety of sounds and textures from the orchestra.
The two concertos were bracketed by a concert-opening new work and a closing favorite. The new one came from the pen of Mohammed Fairouz, a widely performed, 30-year-old, Arab-American composer who has already produced an impressive body of work. His style is accessible, distinctive, and inventive — with the notable exception of the work commissioned and premiered by the Santa Rosa Symphony, Pax Universalis.
The new piece begins promisingly enough, with strings syncopating against a resonant and well-struck wood block, which tocks like a metronome. The melody sounds faintly Mexican, in a traditionally cheerful, dance-like vein. After a few more bars, it begins to sound like a John Williams movie score. The melody is traded back and forth between strings, woodwinds and brass without developing into anything else and the music builds to a predictable climax.
If Pax Universalis had been written by somebody less renowned, it could be dismissed out of hand. But because it’s from Fairouz, you wonder if it’s just an aberration.
Another aberration, this one positive, closed the program: Saint-Saens’ Symphony No.3, “Organ.” Most of Saint-Saens’ music has faded from the repertoire, but the “Organ” Symphony is still much performed, and with good reason. Its themes are memorable, its effect, in a good performance, transformative.
All cylinders were firing in the symphony’s well-oiled traversal. The orchestra was responsive to Ferrandis’s baton, the sound was rich and full, the string sections played in ringing unison. The organ, ably played by Charles Rus, transformed the second movement into a church service and began the last with a tremendous bang.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect was the relentless forward momentum, which began barreling along so rapidly in the third movement that Ferrandis’s baton flew high in the air and landed in the audience. With a replacement in hand, he continued fervently leading the orchestra through the triumphant finale.
Steve Osborn, a medical writer and editor by day, moonlights as a violist, singer, and music critic.
October 11, 2015: Seamless Sister Act Opens Santa Rosa Symphony Season
By: Diane Peterson, October 11, 2015 - Press Democrat
The Santa Rosa Symphony opened its 88th season Saturday night at Weill Hall with an exotic tapestry of Arabic and French melodies, two double piano concertos and an “organ” symphony that generated so much energy it seemed like the hall might lift off the ground like a steampunk balloon.
It was a challenging program, bringing to mind Emperor Joseph II ‘s famous complaint about the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” — “Too many notes, Mozart.”
As a result, ensemble and balance was a bit ragged in places, with the orchestral engine not always bringing the valves in sync with the pistons, but that was a small price to pay for the dazzling kaleidoscope effect of such an ambitious, colorful program.
For fans of the Classical era, the highlight of the evening was the Mozart Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos, starring twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton, who performed the palate cleanser with playful clarity and otherworldly synchronicity.
The 27-year-old pianists, who studied at Curtis Institute of Music and at the Juilliard School, wore gold shoes and dip-hem, red sheaths that were of a slightly different hue and cut, but nearly identical. The color scheme echoed the red-and-gold interiors of the two grand pianos, which were nestled into each other like a Tao symbol.
Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, who taught the sisters at Juilliard, once remarked, “When they play together, they seem to have one mind and one body — it’s extraordinary — like one person with two hands playing.”
Indeed, the pianists’ Mozart ensemble matched seamlessly, from the declarative first movement with playful trills and cadenza to the mesmerizing second movement with its lyrical dialogue between soloists. The bright, rondo finale, used in the soundtrack of the 1984 film “Amadeus,” ended the first half on a high note.
Under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis’ baton, the orchestra provided a sensitive, well-executed accompaniment — not always easy with Mozart — and the work drew an immediate standing ovation from the nearly sold-out crowd.
After intermission, the twins switched pianos to perform Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, a polished and persuasive work that spans the Classicism of Mozart, the Romanticism of Rachmaninoff and the modern dissonance of Stravinsky.
At turns jocular and dreamy, morose and sensuous, the schizophrenic work lurches from the jazzy rhythms of Parisian music halls to more nostalgic, childlike tunes worthy of Mozart, such as the melody that opens the second movement. The work blasts to a forceful conclusion with a blur of brilliant themes and a rag-doll-like dance required by the pianists’ facile hands.
The evening concluded with another nuanced French work: Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, also known as the “Organ Symphony,” although technically it is a symphony “with organ,” not for organ. Only two out of four sections call for organ, which was played admirably by Charles Rus.
Like the composer himself, the third symphony has been accused of being over the hill, a warhorse on its way to the orchestral glue factory. However, the French Jew was at the height of his power when he wrote his third and last symphony, and he poured his heart into it, writing it as a summation of his long career.
Under Ferrandis’ baton, the symphony made a strong case for the work, which sparkles with beautiful string melodies and fugal writing. Even though the ending comes across as more bombastic than honest, the brass section really shone, picking up where they left off during Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 at last season’s finale.
A world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’ “Pax Universalis” opened the program with syncopated rhythms, exotic percussion and a hint of the minor Phyrgian scale of Middle Eastern music. The work seemed purposefully naive, with simple harmonies and a repetitive groove that was non-offensive, if not peaceful.
The symphony will repeat the Saturday program at 8 p.m. Monday at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. Tickets: are $20 to $80 and available at santarosasymphony.com.
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dianepete56.
October 10, 2015: Outstanding opening for Santa Rosa Symphony
By: Adam Broner, October 10, 2015 - Repeat Performances
After a concert at Sonoma State’s Weill Hall one is left with an appreciation for acoustics that should be part of every concert experience. The design and dimensions of this hall, which opened just four years ago, create a sound with a natural loft, clarity and intimacy that is breathtaking.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, Bruno Ferrandis led the Santa Rosa Symphony in a savvy season opener, mixing a populist new work and the timelessness of Mozart, colorist French creations and a brilliant sister act.
Along with the sound, what most stood out was the high level of professionalism from a cadre of musicians whose names grace the rosters of many local orchestras including the Berkeley and Oakland Symphonies, our “Freeway Philharmonic” hard at work. Under Ferrandis’ florid direction their solos were punchy and their ensembles were full and taut.
They began with the World Premiere of Pax Universalis by Mohammed Fairouz, a surprisingly pop-sounding offering that repeats the same melody throughout. Propelled by dotted-note urgency, Fairouz insinuates strands of Big Western themes and pop Arabic noodling into the work. While he is trying to formulate a sense of cultural identity and distinctiveness within a context of musical universality, the whole affair was a little too Disney.
But the audience loved it.
Immediately afterwards we were treated to an incomparable pair of “soloists,” twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton, performing Mozart’s Concerto No 1 in E-flat Major for orchestra and two pianos.
Mozart wrote this at the age of 22 for himself and his older sister Nannerl. They had already been a touring child prodigy act for over a decade, and this was the last piece he wrote before leaving home and his overbearing father. This work was golden and glorious and unmistakably Mozart, but it is still a young composer coming out of the Baroque era.
After Pax Universalis, I was surprised by the level of accessibility Mozart was striving for, again with the lilt of dotted notes, and with a motif that repeats nearly as much as Fairouz’ populist offering. Yes, Mozart was the pop icon of his day! But his “simpler” forms were not only brilliant in the way they transformed and generated themes, but built the foundations of the Classical era.
And it was a pleasure to hear the sheer playfulness between the two pianos, a mark of his love for his sister. Our identical twins certainly had that, along with a mesmerizing unity in this piece that is all about completing each other’s musical sentences.
After the concert I was able to speak with them for a moment. “Is one of you more Mozart and one of you more Nannerl?” I asked.
“No,” Christina answered. “Mozart was very even in the two piano parts. There is only one area where he seems to express… [personalities].” (I suspect that moment was when the warmer mid-tone piano made her entrance, certainly feeling like an older sister.)
I mentioned that I also have an identical twin brother who lives across the country.
“Oh, do you call him every day?” Michelle asked breathlessly.
“No,” I admitted, and felt guilty. We talked about Poulenc until the pressure of other people ended our conversation, but I later wrote my brother.
And that Poulenc! In his Concerto for Two Pianos those sweet young things showed their ferocious stature in a performance that simply blistered the air. Poulenc, a member of Le Six, was the “bad boy” of French composers, tangling common tunes and naughty jokes into his serious themes. And that irreverence only added to the immediacy of his writing. It was interesting to hear what Ferrandis, a French conductor, would do with this. His gestures were never minimal, like some conductors who strive for understatement in order to focus their squadrons. Ferrandis used his long and expressive hands to inspire a French passion and sensitivity, and his apparent reverence for this icon of the piano repertoire and for these two performers only enhanced their moments of humor.
The twins were firecrackers in the explosive first movement, and then severely internal in the Larghetto, quietly rendering a beauty that was almost intolerable in its constraint. The orchestra crept in on wheezes and sighs and then swelled into romanticism. The Naughtons turned the runs of the Allegro molto absolutely molten with doubled notes and tripping runs, and the orchestra feverishly followed and at times pasted together musical quotations in a fascinating display of artistic assemblage.
And then followed another big work of the French repertoire, Saint-Saëns famous “Organ” symphony. Colorful, woodsy, and driven, this paralleled Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in its deep architecture and impulses. They both built their tensions out of short violin motifs and then brought out the winds. Where Schubert went for clarinet, Saint-Saëns chose English horn and throaty flutes, and then reprised those short themes into a huge closing argument for piano and organ. That ending is one of the great moments of the literature.
Saint-Saëns was more of a classicist than an impressionist, and actually loathed Debussy’s watery chords and whole tones. But his orchestration expanded on classical choices with very French colors, sumptuous winds and earthy bassoon. The Santa Rosa Symphony brass were crisp and stentorian, well deserving the standing ovation for their magnificent closing.
Next month, Nov. 7 – 9, this excellent orchestra performs Kurtág, Schuman and Brahms with another great pianist, Pedja Muzijevic. More information and tickets available at santarosasymphony.com.