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Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
RECITAL REVIEW

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.