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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.