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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
RECITAL REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, February 27, 2011
Steven Spooner, piano

Steven Spooner Playing Liszt's 2nd Legend Feb. 27

PROGRAM CHANGES TRANSFORM SPOONER'S LISZT IN NEWMAN HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Steven Spooner is a pianist of many musical surprises. In his Feb. 27 recital for Concerts Grand in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium, the Kansas University artist sharply changed the printed program, beginning with a work of his own. The unexpected changes made a good recital, on paper, into an exceptional experience.

That work of his own, a meandering “new age” Etude in the fashion of jazz artist Keith Jarrett, worked well to quiet an audience of 90 in the chilly hall. The tune “My Funny Valentine” was imbedded in the chromaticism, and clearly Mr. Spooner understands Mr. Jarrett’s poetic keyboard style.

Three Chopin works, also sans program notes, followed, beginning with the first Polonaise in C Sharp, Op. 26. This lyrical piece has a bold opening that recurs often and the pianist gave each repetition a different character. The same could be said of the playing of the youthful Mazurkas of Op. 7, the bagpipe trio of the Mazurka in F beautifully phrased. Mr. Spooner’s Chopin pianism featured subtle meter shifts and equally subtle colors, both central to an artistic Mazurka reading. His rubatos were many and old fashioned, a la Paderewski.

Finally deciding to play a programmed work, the pianist launched into the not popular but telling Haydn’s 48th Sonata in C, Hob. XIV/35. The two-movement Sonata received the pianist’s close attention to the improvisatory opening’s slowly-unfolding theme, and the closing second movement was effervescent with Haydn’s ubiquitous humor, clear scale playing and a catchy left-hand upward bass run that appeared twice. Wonderful music, expertly played.

The first half ended with the printed program’s ending for the second half, Liszt’s sweeping Second Legend (St. Francis Walking on the Waves), from 1863. This performance was radically different that Elenor Barcsak’s lyrical performance in Marin in 2010 and the Antonio Iturrioz performance in April of 2009 in Newman that was diminished by “luftpause” breaks in the long line. Mr. Spooner had the endurance to push the broken octaves in the left hand to maximum volume and the feeling of rolling waves was palpable. This is program music that demands a bravura technique, the religious ecstasy evident at the end when the pianist created the great saint on his cloak crossing the roaring ocean.

Another fascinating program change occupied the entire second half, Liszt’s B Minor Sonata. Santa Rosa has heard recent performances of this 1853 masterpiece from Hewitt, Bronfman, Margulis and most notably Garrick Ohlsson in 2007, and Mr. Spooner’s interpretation had a little from each, but the whole was entirely his own. His comments to the audience, always to the point and engrossing, cast the formidable 30-minute work as encompassing the composer’s deeply religious nature and thoughts of immortality. Mr. Spooner has a technique that is not naturally facile and I would suspect the glittering fast-speed octaves and orchestral chord playing are the result of long work and thought on the Sonata. The bucolic chorale sections interrupting surging parts of the single movement were a transfiguration, calling a listener’s attention to celestial space and repose. He was never in a hurry to get anywhere and his rhythmic mastery was complete.

At the original end of this extraordinary music odyssey a single fortissimo chord is heard , but Liszt altered the that score to add 32 more measures, gradually having them fading away to pianissimo. Mr. Spooner’s chordal weighting and pedal control was superb, the music sonorous but fleeting, and there was a ten-second hush beyond the final bottom B note (played neither staccato nor as a fermata).

If an encore was demanded, and it was, it had to be something diametrically opposed to the storms of the Legend and Sonata. Mr. Spooner presented Chopin’s “Farewell” Waltz in F Minor, Op. 69, No. 1. It was an understated performance, perfectly capturing the melancholy and nostalgia.

The reviewer is also the producer of the Concerts Grand series.