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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, 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.