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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.