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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 ...
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.