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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 07, 2011
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Jon Nakamatsu, piano

Pianist Jon Nakamatsu

SMALL HANDS, BIG HEART

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 07, 2011

Jon Nakamatsu has small hands but a big heart. That anatomic mismatch was abundantly evident during his appearance with the Santa Rosa Symphony on May 7, which featured a swoon-inducing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s canonic first piano concerto. From the familiar opening to the thrilling conclusion, the petite Nakamatsu held the audience in thrall, as much by his prodigious technique as his elegant phrasing.

He began lightly, playing the opening chords with little sustain and zero bombast. His persistent use of staccato drew attention to the notes rather than the pedal and signaled that his performance would focus more on delicacy than excess. His posture reflected this approach. He sat ramrod straight, without undue swaying, and his hands were always at the keyboard, only rising in the air occasionally to punctuate the ends of phrases.

As the movement progressed, Nakamatsu began to lighten up. His use of the pedal increased, and his many runs up and down the keys swelled in velocity and expressivity. By the cadenza, he had reached full stride. Here his impeccable technique shone through, with every note sounding and every phrase etched to perfection. What was most impressive, however, were his judicious pauses between lines. Even the rests were melodic.

In the background, conductor Bruno Ferrandis and the Symphony players kept pace with Nakamatsu’s brisk tempi and added many flourishes of their own. Romantic piano concertos have often been characterized as piano vs. orchestra, but such was not the case here. The players faded and came to the fore as needed, often seeming to inspire Nakamatsu to more expressive heights.

The opening movement ended with hearty applause, a neglected tradition that appears to be reviving. Opening movements of concertos are really works unto themselves, usually with virtuosic cadenzas, and there’s no reason not to applaud them. Virtually everyone in the nearly full Wells Fargo Center seemed to agree.

After the audience settled down, Nakamatsu embarked on the tender Andantino simplice of the second movement, again displaying his exquisite phrasing and musical empathy. Just when the atmosphere was at its most languorous, he launched into an amazingly fast Prestissimo, showcasing his well-oiled fingers and their astonishing ability to sustain a trill of any length with the utmost precision.

The last movement of the Tchaikovsky showcases the soloist and orchestra in turn, with many alternating passages. On each re-entry, Nakamatsu turned his engagement up a notch, at one point pausing to mop his otherwise unperturbed brow. The standing ovation at the end was immediate and unanimous. It’s hard to remember a better soloist playing with the Symphony in recent years. No one comes to this reviewer’s mind.

The Symphony itself was also in top form. The ever-changing personnel in the string sections played remarkably well, and the more familiar woodwind, brass and percussion players were uniformly excellent.

The concert began with a last-minute addition: the “Nimrod” variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, played to commemorate the recent deaths of two prominent local businessmen, Evert Person and Jess Jackson. This was followed in short order by Sofia Gubaidulina’s Fairytale Poem, a brief work from 1971 that displays her firm command of orchestration, but without the intense expressivity of her later works.

Gubaidiluna composed many film scores during the Soviet period, and Fairytale Poem could easily accompany a movie, although it would likely be more of a film noir than a fairytale. The emphasis is on eerie, isolated sounds, with many brief solos giving way to a jazzy section in 6/8. The texture is delicate, often sounding like chamber music, and the major emphasis is on atmosphere rather than narrative.

Like many concert-opening contemporary works, Fairytale Poem was over way too soon. Perhaps Ferrandis will see fit to program a longer work by Gubaidiluna in the future. She is an important composer, and her many compositions deserve a wider audience.

The all-Russian main program concluded in the second half with a stirring performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Actually, calling Pictures Russian is somewhat misleading, since it owes as much to Ravel’s decidedly French orchestration as to Mussorgsky’s original piano score. The entire piece, in fact, is a tangle of original and copy. Are we hearing Mussorgsky, Ravel or Victor Hartman, whose paintings originally inspired the work?

The answer may be all three, along with the musicians and conductor who perform, in this case bringing the pictures to life. Beginning with a strong entry from the brass section, the Symphony displayed its many talents, including some memorable tuba playing, a haunting saxophone solo, and consistently energetic percussion. Ferrandis was in full control, executing sharp cutoffs and setting brisk tempi.

Everything worked. By the final picture, “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the Symphony was in full tilt, with the cymbals crashing and everyone else playing to the max. It was a rousing finale for the Symphony’s penultimate season in the Wells Fargo Center. Thanks to a recent infusion of much-needed cash, they move to the resplendent Green Music Center in 2012.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]