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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, November 20, 2011
Elena Kuschnerova, piano

Elena Kuschnerova in Newman Auditorium Nov. 20

PASSIONATE SCHUMANN AND POETIC TCHAIKOVSKY IN ELENA KUSCHNEROVA PIANO RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 20, 2011

Danish virtuoso Egon Petri once commented that most pianists “spend their melodic purse in small coin.” Elena’s Kuschnerova, in her second Concerts Grand appearance Nov. 20, would have none of that approach, playing a mercurial recital that left nothing on the table in the wake of her potent musical personality.

In SRJC’s Newman Auditorium the Russian dynamo, now living in Baden-Baden, took on Schumann’s mighty Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, as the first half’s major work. These 12 studies are in the form of variations and require of the pianist a big chord technique, wide left-hand skips and the ability to carry perpetual motion sections to their extremes. In the Agitato fifth variation with its interlocking chords the playing was scintillating, and the brilliant final study in D Flat was a triumph of bravura. It was a brawny approach to one of Schumann’s greatest masterpieces, sonically thrilling. The audience of 115 rose as one in an ovation.

Six of Tchaikovsky’s pictures “Seasons”, Op. 37b, were played to begin the concert, and with a curious twist. The artist, after recalling her recital on the same stage three years ago, prefaced each of the six vignettes on the Russian months with a reading of the poems the composer appended to the score. And she declaimed short poems in richly-hued Russian, telling listeners that it was important to hear the words as the composer did when finishing the work in 1876. It was effective theater and combined perfectly with the selected months: May, June, July, August, October and December. In these works the pianist exhibited a light and often elegant touch, the opening arpeggios of “May” carrying to the top row and the Andante Doloroso e Molto Cantabile of “October” conveyed a haunting sadness. It was playing of conviction and occasional introspection. The Christmas “Noel” in A Flat was taken at a quick pace, a good thing due to the multiple repetitions of the waltz theme, and the generous phrase-ending rubatos were deftly performed.

Ms. Kuschnerova opened the all-Liszt second part as she did in the first, presenting mostly lyrical works and started with a chaste performance of the Third Consolation in D Flat, using the shift pedal continuously for color. In the six Liszt pieces the artist’s sovereign pianistic command was everywhere on display, the upper body in constant movement but both feet firmly on the damper and shift pedals. The second of the three Concert Etudes, “La Leggierezza,” was played with graceful arabesques and varied repeats, more delicate than powerful.

Power was on display in the concluding Mephisto Waltz No. 1, the untiring broken octaves and granitic chord playing seeming able to raise the cool temperature of the hall. The only pianistic missteps occurred in Sonetto 104 and in the transcription of the Schumann song “Widmung” where finger slips marred the otherwise ardent tonal portrayal of romantic dedication.

A month previously in the same venue and with the same piano Jon Nakamatsu played the three Sonetti Del Petrarca, and here Ms. Kuschnerova choose two of them, 123 and 104. The contrast between the two artists in these works was pronounced, as Mr. Nakamatsu lingered over many passages and stressed tonal color, where Ms. Kuschnerova choose an agitated approach with sporadic elegant phrases. However, the atmospheric ending of the Sonetto 123 captivated the audience, the pianissimo final b flat a flat notes hanging ethereally in the air for many seconds.

Three encores were demanded, beginning with the Siloti transcription of Bach’s B Minor Prelude, and the playing emphasized the softly descending harmonic patterns and inner voices in the left hand. Prokofiev’s explosive “Mercutio” movement from the 1937 ballet “Romeo and Juliet” and the March from the opera “The Love For Three Oranges” followed, each receiving carefully gauged but volcanic interpretations.

Elena Kuschnerova at 40 is playing at the top of her game, a fearless and passionate pianist in the music she wishes to present to the public.

The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand series.