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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...
RECITAL REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, April 18, 2010
Sandro Russo, Pianist

Sandro Russo after playing

RUSSO SCORCHES NEWMAN AUDITORIUM IN SEASON FINALE RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring thunder from sunny Italy was the order of the day April 18 when Sicilian pianist Sandro Russo closed the seventh Concerts Grand season with a dramatic recital at Santa Rosa Junior College.

In an 80-minute program before a Newman Auditorium audience of 120 Mr. Russo disdained the usual opening works of Scarlatti and Mozart and launched into a powerful rendering of Liszt’s magnificent “Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Sagen,” based on a Bach Cantata first heard in April, 1714. The title can be translated as “Weeping, Lamenting, Worry and Apprehension” and Mr. Russo’s imposing interpretation brought out the works majesty as well as its infinite sorrow. His running left-hand octave playing was masterly and the often judicious tempos let air into the work. There was reconciliation in the chorale where grief is overcome.

If the Liszt might could be about conquering adversity, Beethoven’s F Minor Sonata (“Appassionata”) is surely about it. With memorable past Newman performances by Joseph Banowetz and the mercurial Valentina Lisitsa, Mr. Russo had a mountain to climb in a sonata the composer was said to have liked above all others. The difficult articulation problems in the opening Allegro assai were handled with ease and Mr. Russo had the requisite speed and large tone in the second subject. The short set of variations comprising the second movement were lovingly set out, the artist in no hurry to get anywhere.

Recently pianists (e. g., Schiff, Fellner, Biss) have been playing the Sonata and especially the concluding Allegro ma non troppo is an “architectural” style, emphasizing structure and inner thematic relationships over passion. Mr. Russo would have none of this, seizing the emotional drive and sweep of the movement and bringing the audience to its feet with the final fortissimo chords. The piano would have been hot to the touch as he left the stage amid cheers.

Following intermission Lowell Liebermann’s haunting Nocturne No. 8 (2004) was given, and Mr. Russo knows these pieces (there are now 11 Nocturnes) through careful study and his own premiere of the Nocturne No. 10. The eighth is haunting, the menacing quality set against short lyrical passages. Mr. Russo’s interpretation has changed since I heard him play it in 2004, now less explosive in the big crashes of sound in measures 123 and 124, emphasizing more the mysterious nature of the writing. Is anyone writing nocturne-like works with such sonic interest as Mr. Liebermann?

The formal program concluded with Schumann’s eight-movement Kreisleriana, Op. 16. It is a difficult work to hold together, with many da capo forms of various moods. Mr. Russo approached each with care, especially in the Sehr langsam where his tonal control was exquisite. The entire performance exhibited a controlled rotation and double-note legato technique, glowing cantilena in the Sehr aufgeregt with the final conception lacking perhaps only the last portion of introspection.

The ending of the Schumann caused some confusion in the hall as the program, printed eight months ago, showed it as the last work. People were preparing to leave but fortunately Mr. Russo was in a generous mood and capped the recital and season in a driving and ultimately sensational performance of Balakirev’s Oriental Fantasy “Islamey.” Considered one of the most difficult works in the standard piano repertoire, Mr. Russo’s whirlwind of repeated notes, large right-hand skips and a dollop on bombast were equal to the score’s demands. Those in the first row were a little scorched by what one listener called a “Vesuvius” of sound, but that’s what you get with a great “Islamey” performance. There was no encore offered or needed.

Sandro Russo’s recital was on balance the most virtuosic playing heard in Santa Rosa since the Bronfman, Ohlsson and Nakamatsu concerts of three years ago and was a forceful capstone to the nine-recital Concerts Grand season.

The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand series.