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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Oakmont Concert Series / Thursday, May 08, 2008
RAFAL BLECHACZ, CONCERT PIANIST

Rafael Blechacz

CHOPIN WINNER WOWS THEM IN OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, May 08, 2008

The young Polish pianist Rafael Blechacz arrived May 8 at the Oakmont Concerts Series with quite a bit of musical baggage, including winning the 2005 Chopin Competition (the same competition that launched Garrick Ohlsson's career in 1974) and playing on several ubiquitous You Tube snippets. He was touring the Bay Area, and his debut here was eagerly anticipated by a large crowd, including many pianists, in Berger Auditorium.

Blechacz didn't disappoint with his initial offering, Mozart's D-Major Sonata, K. 311. His command of fluid scale passages served the work well, as did his ability to put a little 'air' between the notes, establishing clarity as well as speed. He chose fast tempi and minimal pedal for both the opening allegro con spirito and the concluding rondeau. His hands were admirably balanced, and his dynamic control was exceptional. Clearly he has had excellent teachers. Unfortunately, several notes in the upper tenor and treble of the house piano went quickly out of tune, and continued so throughout the recital.

Debussy's Estampes followed, and was delivered effectively, if at times a little blandly. The three works in this collection are coloristic journeys into rich impressionism, and Blechacz presented them without showing any natural affinity for the Frenchman's often diaphanous and subtle music. Nonetheless, they were played with sonorous attention to detail, and received loud applause.

The first half ended with Szymanowski's early B-Flat Minor Variations, Op. 3, which received a passionate reading. Written just after 1900, this work has a noble theme and 12 disparate variations. Blechacz played them with ardor and masterly comprehension.

Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28, comprised the second half of the concert. Blechacz's pianism here was of considerable authority but finally a little underwhelming. This trait seems odd for a competition winner, as the norm is for barnstorming, virtuosic playing to impress jurors and audiences alike. But Blechacz offered a more restrained approach to this intricate work, never getting a resounding fortissimo from the piano, often cutting off fermatas, never prolonging pedal points, and even underplaying the fleeting 16th and 22nd preludes. It's certainly a valid approach to this magnificent music, but a more heroic and large-scale interpretation seems preferable. Blechacz is young, however, and the Preludes should hold infinite possibilities for his future interest. Profound music demands a lifetime of artistic thought.

Responding to loud acclaim, he offered one encore, a scintillating Chopin waltz. Here in six minutes all the best of Mr. Blechacz's art was present: sovereign control, a chaste tone, perfectly etched scales and sculpted phrases of great beauty.