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Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
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.