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Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
Opera
DONIZETTI'S DON PASQUALE HAS LYRICAL CHARM IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
by Elly Lichenstein
Friday, July 14, 2017
Mendocino Music Festival's production of Donizetti's beloved opera buffa Don Pasquale - a one-night affair July 15 that was presented in an enormous tent on a greensward overlooking the Pacific Ocean - delighted an audience of more than 600 while doing some real justice to this frothy gem of commedi...
Recital
NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the ...
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.