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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
Concerts Grand / Sunday, February 26, 2012
Lara Downes, piano

Lara Downes Playing Sheng's Variation Fugato Feb. 26 (Joan Louie Photo)

13 COMPOSERS CHASE BACH'S GOLDBERG ARIA AT LARA DOWNES' NEWMAN HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2012

A popular way to reach a wide classical audience is to find a musical niche, playing unfamiliar works with an uncommon passion. Lara Downes has been an ingratiating niche pianist for years, presenting programs of Roy Harris, William Balcom and Aaron Jay Kernis, and lately a unique recital built around Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Before a Newman Auditorium audience Feb. 26 Ms. Downes brought her “13 Ways of Looking at Goldberg” program in the fifth recital of the Concerts Grand season.

The set of 13 “re-imaginings” of the Goldberg (BWV 988) comes from 2004 and enlists 13 contemporary composers contributing works of fewer than four minutes related to the famous 32-measure aria. The composers are either well known names (Balcom, Higdon, Sheng, Del Tredici, Foss, Hersch, Gothóni) or obscure, but each sheds light on Bach’s melodic genius and along the way exemplifies manifold moods. The pianist’s verbal descriptions were pithy and informative.

Ms. Downes read from an I Pad electronic score throughout, each page actuated by a foot switch next to the piano’s shift pedal, but mostly she played scant attention to the notes. Her playing of the opening a closing Bach aria was brisk, more in the style of the 1955 Gould recording than the newly lauded Simone Dinnerstein reading. Especially notable in the unfolding panoply of contemporary renditions were Fred Lerdahl’s Chasing Goldberg and C. Curtis-Smith’s Rube Goldberg Variation. Here Ms. Downes played with a facile technique and a chaste tone, her pedaling and cross-hand execution deft. None of the works require an orchestral sound and the artist was content to underscore a natural progression of the 13, the actual order selected by Ms. Downes and recently recorded. She never seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere and the lovely Melancholy Minuet of Fred Hersch was performed with a nostalgic glow.

After prolonged applause Ms. Downes offered a rare gem from the nonagenarian Dave Brubeck, a five-minute improvisatory piece that moved irresistibly through many keys and moods, the harmonies piquant. The juxtaposition of the encore with the 13 composers and the always contemporary Bach was adroit and convincing.

Ms. Downes substituted for the originally announced program of pianist Evgeni Mikhailov, who was unable to obtain a visa in Moscow.

The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand series.