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Chamber
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 ch...
Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
RECITAL REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, February 21, 2010
Valentina Lisitsa, Pianist

Valentina Lisitsa Playing Chopin's Butterfly Étude Feb. 21 (R. Crockett Photo)

LISITSA TRIUMPHS WITH BIG PROGRAM IN NEWMAN HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ukrainian-American virtuoso Valentina Lisitsa came to her Feb. 21 Santa Rosa recital carrying the fame of a massive YouTube video presence and as among the handful of the most popular woman pianists on the international scene. Whether she is among the best remained to be seen and heard.

Performing for the Concerts Grand series in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium, Ms. Lisitsa took on a program of staggering breadth – Schumann’s “Kinderscenen,” the Appassionata Sonata of Beethoven and the entire corpus of the Chopin Études, Op. 10 and 25. The last, along with the pianist’s undeniable glamour, attracted what was estimated to be the largest crowd ever in Newman, with many standing in the side aisles for the entire performance. Pianists and music students were liberally sprinkled throughout the audience, not really knowing how the tall artist could manage the pyrotechnics of the 24 studies after a demanding first half. They were soon to find out.

Schumann’s 13-part “Scenes from Childhood” received a poised and mildly understated reading, the singing lines perhaps most perfectly realized in the last segment, “The Poet Speaks.” Here the pianist suspended all sense of time and had the audience enthralled. For the F Minor Sonata, Op. 57, recent performances across the country seem to be emphasizing the architecture and inner connections of the movements, holding down the passion. Can one have an “Appassionata” without the passion? Ms. Lisitsa didn’t think so and played an exciting opening Allegro assai, shaking off some initial blurred passages to spotlight the sforzandos and solving with ease the difficult articulation problems in the second part of the second subject.

Ms. Lisitsa has a fluid and relaxed physical approach to the instrument, with both long arms and fingers, and in the second movement her graceful playing was a bit fast for the lyrical variations, lacking repose. The famous concluding Allegro was played ma non troppo, the thunderous 13 opening chords heralding a dramatic but controlled journey of sweeping emotion.

Turning after intermission to the daunting task of Chopin’s “exercises,” the pianist selected tempos that were almost always on the fast side. Most of the works were played “attacca,” meaning no break between each, often beginning one Étude without releasing the last note of the previous one. There is some historical support for this practice, in the original manuscripts. But no matter, as they are indeed studies brilliantly addressing a myriad of technical tasks. The highlights for this reviewer were two from the first Book, a ravishing No. 11 (Harp) and an exceptionally fast No. 12 (Revolutionary). In the second Book, the famous “Aeolian Harp” in A-Flat could have benefited by more restraint to create musical tension, as in the middle part of the Op. 25, No. 5. The “Butterfly” of Op. 25, No. 9, was played with just the right loose wrist staccato touch. Some in the hall may have felt overwhelmed hearing so much technical dexterity, but the auditing pianists were surely hanging on every familiar Étude and phrase. Overall, Ms. Lisitsa clearly preferred to play according to her concepts with no concession to digital requirements, and whether the “take no prisoners” approach works is a matter of taste. She is never, ever boring.

The expected tumult from the audience brought three generous encores, the first an unfamiliar Rachmaninoff Moment Musicaux from the 1896 set of six, Op. 16. The G Minor Prelude from the same composer’s Op. 23 was played as fast as I have ever heard it, the chords in measure 23 hammered to powerful effect while still maintaining clarity. The meno mosso middle section, described by a colleague of the composer as a reflection of his noble soul, was precipitously speedy.

Liszt’s second Hungarian Rhapsody closed the long program and of course blew the roof off. The pianist added two novel bars in mid piece and played passages where the Hungarian Liszt introduced ersatz cimbalom and finger cimbal effects with demonic abandon. Skips and repeated notes were not impeccable but distinctly resplendent. The ovation bordered on pandemonium, all of which Ms. Lisitsa accepted with unassuming grace.

Whetting the appetite of the pianist’s admirers, Santa Rosa Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow announced from his seat in the audience that Ms. Lisitsa will return in November to play Liszt’s E-Flat Concerto and Totentanz. Full houses at the Wells Center are at this early date anticipated.

The reviewer is also the producer of the Concerts Grand series.