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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
RECITAL REVIEW

Oakmont's Larry Metzger with Elena Ulyanova at Recital Reception

PIANISTIC DRAMA OVERCOMES SUBTLETY IN OAKMONT RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ukrainian pianist Elena Ulyanova made her Sonoma County debut June 10 in an Oakmont Concert Series recital that was conventional in repertoire but quite agitating in performance. The pieces played were nearly a reprise of her November, 2008 recital in Tiburon’s St. Hilary Church, sans the big Rachmaninoff B-Flat Sonata.

Ms. Ulyanova has a passionate musical personality and her playing in Berger Auditorium before 200 people may not have been to the taste of most piano aficionados. She continuously pushes the envelope for speed and dramatic contrast, reveling in fast scale passages and sforzandos followed by arms flying high off the keyboard. That approach worked best in Beethoven’s F Minor Sonata, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”) where the emotional and dramatic qualities can suit the music, albeit with control. In some ways the reading was similar to the “Appassionata” of Italian pianist Sandro Russo in his April 18 Newman Auditorium recital, in that passion trumped architecture. But where Russo used repose to contrast the difficult articulations problems in the opening Allegro assai Ms. Ulyanova threw caution to the winds, sacrificing clarity to momentum. The Coda was played as fast as I have ever heard it, with anticipatory pedal prior to the three big forte chords announcing the sonic carnage to the end.

The Andante con moto variations had some lovely inner voices, especially in the second “chorale” variation, and was played with considerable dispatch. In the emotional sweep of the finale, introduced by the famous 13 chords that were surprisingly played staccato, the speed bordered on being reckless. But Ms. Ulyanova never quite lost control and the grand design was compelling, the wrong top notes in the right hand at the end not detracting in the least from the drama. It was not a performance to savor, but I found things to admire in the high-pressure reading. The pianist is not averse to taking chances.

Closing the first half was Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22. The current norm for this richly vocal work is to play the Andante fast and the Polonaise slowly, the opposite of Hofmann’s legendary recording at his 1937 Golden Jubilee concert in the old Metropolitan Opera House. Ms. Ulyanova chose the common mode, using little rubato and playing without much subtlety. The 16-measure modulatory bridge passage between the two parts was abbreviated to several chords, for an unknown reason. The Polonaise performance had a teasing quality, the scales fast but cloudy with pedal and the lovely short vocal section in the middle too rushed. The three forte left-hand E Flat accents provided pedal point and spice. In sum, it was brash and messy performance, the filigree rapid but routine.

Two Debussy Preludes from Book II, Brouillards and Ondine, began the second half, with the piano becoming increasingly out of tune in the treble. Ondine was particularly good, the restless nature of the scherzo-like changes of mood were effectively portrayed. This wasn’t Debussy with shades of color, but with rhythmic power. Ms. Ulyanova has a flair for Debussy’s complexity but the speed of each Prelude covered any introspection or languorous dalliance.

Rachmaninoff’s “Polka de WR” and the Tarantella from Liszt’s “Venezia e Napoli” concluded the program. The former, played with no interval from the Debussy, lacked charm and was roughly banged. A long ago live Horowitz performance in Carnegie Hall lingered in my mind where the Russian master had the audience hanging on every subtle phrase. The Liszt, resplendent in Ms. Ulyanova's bravura repeated notes and ferocious momentum, was one of the least interesting performances I have heard of the work in a concert hall, missing any semblance of melodic shaping and respite. Extremes of dynamics and rushed tempos don't make convincing Liszt, from any of his compositional periods.

No encore was offered by the artist.