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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 it seems to be on almost every...
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...
Chamber
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
Recital
KENNER'S ALL POLISH RECITAL HAS PADEREWSKI RARITY
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Kevin Kenner’s April 8 recital at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall had been advertised as all-Chopin, but he added a detour into another seminal Polish composer-pianist, Paderewski. Several of Mr. Kenner’s teachers were Poles, he speaks Polish, and he navigated at the piano both composers’ deman...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Chamber
VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018
At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schro...
Choral and Vocal
GOOD FRIDAY REQUIEM FILLS INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 30, 2018
Maurice Duruflé’s short and intense Requiem has been heard in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation before, but the March 30 Good Friday performance was stripped down in the number of performers, combining Cantiamo Sonoma and the St. Cecilia Choir with musical underpinning from organist Robert Youn...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Recital
VIRTUOSIC VARIATIONS IN MORGAN'S SCHROEDER ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Organist Robert Huw Morgan’s artistry spun through the web of early variation form in a Mar. 18 recital on Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh organ. Mr. Morgan, Stanford University’s resident organist, performs a wide range of repertoire, but as he said in comments to the audience, he loves when h...
RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson In Napa Recital Dec. 16

OHLSSON TRIUMPHANT IN NAPA BEETHOVEN BIRTHDAY SONATA RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Virtuoso pianist Garrick Ohlsson is clearly at the top of his game, the latest evidence being a blockbuster Beethoven Sonata recital Dec. 16 in Napa’s United Methodist Church.

Celebrating the Bonn’s master’s 240th birthday and coming off a project recording all 32 Sonatas, Mr. Ohlsson met a jammed Chamber Music in Napa Valley audience with a balanced program featuring the familiar, not so familiar and rarely played. Many in the audience of 300 have heard the artist numerous times in the series, produced by wine moguls John and Maggie Kongsgaard, and greeted his entrance to the acoustically dead hall for the D Minor Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2 (Tempest), with loud applause.

The opening Allegro is storm and stress, and Mr. Ohlsson quickly disclosed a recital-long interest in instrumental color and contrast. He used the shift pedal a lot, getting hazy tints in the two recitatives and handling the tricky two-note slurs with ease. There was strong thematic projection in the Adagio and long sustained tones in the treble, carefully pedaled. In the agitated finale, the artist underscored its softly wistful nature, and the playing of the persistent four-note motive was never mechanical. The play of the registers with no ritards to the final pianissimo left-hand was masterful.

Before intermission the seldom programmed E Flat Sonata, Op., 27, No. 1, was for me the highlight of the recital. It’s not popular with audiences, and the four-movement work in unsympathetic hands can seem dense. Here the pianist set out the simple opening with firm rhythmic control, the last two chords haunting and leading subtly attaca subito to the Adagio. The pianist several times gave a little extra duration to the fermatas, adding to the expectation of the concluding rondo, interrupted near the end to reintroduce the melody of the slow introduction. Mr. Ohlsson made a strong case for the lyric building blocks of the piece, some parts sounding fugal but always in judicious balance. Obviously he has given this work countless hours of study in the studio.

From 1809, the F Sharp Sonata (Op. 78) opened the second half with unaffected directness, Mr. Ohlsson’s exact chordal weighting a delight to hear. His technique cannot abide phrases without sonorous chords and precisely equal inflection in both hands. The usual graceful caprice of Allegro Vivace was played here almost raucously, the left hand crossing to trenchant treble accents.

In recent years an approach to the concluding F Minor Sonata, Op. 57 (Appassionata) has arisen that stresses the great work’s architectural design and interlocking segments over the conventional dramatic qualities. Readings by Till Fellner and Andras Schiff come to mind. Earlier this season Sandro Russo on the Concerts Grand series would have none of this, grabbing for the emotional nucleus, and Mr. Ohlsson’s performance followed suit, taking no prisoners. The quiet opening turned volcanic with the evening’s first really big forte sound, the potent F Minor key resounding to the last row in the lovely church. There were a few surprising inner voices in the first movement, surprising in that the Appassionata isn’t a piece for wayward experiments in interpretative individuality. It’s a work that the artist exploited with a lovely detaché touch and finger staccato in the short variation movement, Beethoven’s chaste melody uppermost. Mr. Ohlsson always emphasizes the essentials in his conceptions, leaving the inessentials to subsidiary lines and occasional appearances.

A ferocious arpeggiated chord, carried with the pedal from the previous measure, announced the 13 titanic chords that launched the tremendous sweep of the Allegro ma non troppo. There was never any pounding, regardless of the tsunami of sound the pianist wrung from the instrument. But the contrasts in low-volume playing were also never absent, the four right-hand chords over the midpoint pedal point c a telling break to the music’s grandeur. The last section in Presto was compelling, the artist never losing control and never giving a thought to underplaying the excitement.

Of course a thunderous standing ovation followed, and there was palpable curiosity on what encore(s) might be offered. A late Beethoven Bagatelle? The frisky “Rage Over A Lost Penny”? Mr. Ohlsson’s patrician side then emerged when he played a nuanced middle movement (Andante cantabile) from the Pathétique Sonata in C Minor. Here his rock-solid rhythmic sense never left him, nor in the following “Revolutionary” Study of Chopin, Op. 10, No. 12.

In this year of Chopin’s 200th birth, Garrick Ohlsson has been playing mostly the Pole’s immortal music, but if one asked the Napa audience Thursday night, the verdict would be to have this formidable pianist, at an exalted stage of his youthful career, to program Beethoven Sonatas forever.