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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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.