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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

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.