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Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, November 06, 2010
Valentina Lisitsa, piano
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor

Pianist Valentina Lisitsa

TRANSCENDENT LISZT FROM LISITSA

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Santa Rosa Symphony consists of about six dozen talented musicians, but during their Nov. 6 performance at the Wells Fargo Center, piano soloist Valentina Lisitsa completely stole the show. This thirty-something, blond-haired, steely-fingered Ukrainian-American is beyond talented. Her technical virtuosity easily matches any pianist of her generation, and her musicality is out of this world.

The Symphony, under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, set the stage for Lisitsa with a spirited rendition of George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, the work for which this otherwise obscure Romanian composer is best known. The rhapsody is quintessential Gypsy music, starting slowly and accelerating to a furious pace.

The first clarinet and oboe opened the work with an assured duet, followed in short order by other woodwinds and the strings, who settled into a languorous waltz. Under Ferrandis’ skillful baton, the entire orchestra glided into a well-controlled accelerando, culminating in a sparkling flute duet. The constant rhythmic shifts proved no obstacle as the orchestra evoked the mystery, gaiety and reckless abandon of Gypsy dance music. The sustained applause prompted Ferrandis to return for a curtain call and recognize the soloists, a rarity for an opening work.

The musical center moved from Romania to Hungary as Lisitsa traipsed onstage to play Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. She seemed somewhat uncomfortable walking in her slinky, floor-length black gown. When she sat down to play, however, the attention shifted to her bare shoulders and sinewy arms. She displayed effortless poise during her dramatic first entrance, and she maintained that state of grace throughout the concerto.

Foremost among Lisitsa’s many talents is her understanding of the music she plays. Unlike his many showpieces, Liszt’s first piano concerto does have a coherent musical narrative, and Lisitsa told that story eloquently, dropping her voice to a whisper or raising it to a shout as occasion demanded. Each phrase had a definite shape, and her rhythmic drive propelled them forward into a spellbinding tale. She enhanced the sorcery by twirling her left arm in the air whenever her right was playing alone.

Everything about Lisitsa’s playing was fluid, from her arm gestures, to the occasional tosses of her long hair, to the way she hunched over the keyboard and then leaned back. It was hard to believe she could generate such power from such a slim frame, but the evidence was incontrovertible, even from my balcony seat on the far right side.

After the sustained standing ovation, I met a friend in the lobby who offered me an unused ticket for a downstairs seat near the center of the auditorium. This happy coincidence gave me a closer look at Lisitsa, who returned to the stage after intermission to play Liszt’s “Totentanz,” the famous Dance of Death.

Lisitsa’s playing of the concerto had been stellar, but her performance of “Totentanz” was intergalactic. She began with a ferocious attack that sent every muscle in her powerful forearms rippling. She soon followed with effortless glissandos from one end of the keyboard to the other, somehow sounding every note along the way. It was absolutely spellbinding. Under her hands, the piano became a different instrument, capable of an enormous range of expression, from evanescent pianissimos to thunderous volleys. There came a moment about half-way through the piece when it seemed that everyone in the auditorium was utterly captivated by Lisitsa’s playing. She invested the music with such quality that it went well beyond notes on a page and into the realm of transcendent experience.

Yet another boisterous ovation led a to a mid-performance encore, the Chopin E Flat Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2. The contrast with the diabolic Liszt could not have been greater, the better to show off Lisitsa’s tremendous range. The frenzy of the “Totentanz” gave way to a few sublime moments of blessed quietude.

Lisitsa was an almost impossible act to follow, but the Symphony, which had faded into the background during the Liszt and Chopin, made a game effort with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Mr. Ferrandis set a somewhat slow tempo during the opening movement, and it wasn’t until the fourth of five movements that the concerto finally caught fire.

The concerto moves from section to section of the orchestra, highlighting soloists or ensembles, as the case may be. The playing from each section was exemplary, particularly from the violas in the third movement and the trumpets in the last. The great trombone slide in the fourth movement was also quite effective.

The best, however, was when Mr. Ferrandis gathered all the forces into the pulsating, kinetic energy of the last movement. Here the entire orchestra worked together to deliver powerful music from a twentieth-century master. While not the transcendent experience offered by Lisitsa, at least it came close. The Symphony has rarely sounded better.