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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
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...
RECITAL REVIEW

Barbara Nissman On The Oakmont Stage June 14

VIRTUOSIC PROKOFIEV AND LISZT IN NISSMAN'S OAKMONT RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, June 14, 2012

Barbara Nissman’s pianism is best heard on her own terms, with little comparison to current performance practices. This was in evidence June 14 when the venerable West Virginia artist returned to Sonoma County, playing a long recital in the Oakmont Concert Series before 160 in Berger Auditorium.

The recital was long because of the artist’s spoken introduction (both incisive and silly) and because the program was packed with pieces associated with Ms. Nissman’s lengthy career, beginning with study under the Bartok specialist Gyorgy Sandor.

Liszt's transcription of Bach's A Minor Prelude and Fugue (BWV 543) opened the program, a propitious choice. Though piano transcriptions of Bach's organ works from d'Albert, Petri and Busoni were once popular, the Liszt work is the one currently heard and Ms. Nissman gave it a wonderful performance, stressing contrapuntal clarity over sonority. The artist lacks a big sound at the piano and during the entire concert there wasn't a true fortissimo. No matter, clarity prevailed through the repetitive phrasing of the Prelude and there were some beguiling staccato touches in the Fugue. An auspicious and captivating beginning.

Ms. Nissman is billed as a Romantic pianist but Beethoven’s C-Sharp Minor Sonata (Moonlight) was the antithesis of a romantic interpretation, and the cantabile first movement was played fast and almost without rubato, the shift pedal used throughout. The sprightly rhythms of the middle Allegretto were put into high relief with sharp changes in volume and bouncy clarity. In the finale (Presto Agitato) the broken chords were played masterfully and the entire movement had drama, albeit without the last ounce of power.

Six of Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives (Op. 22) and his Op. 28 Third Sonata closed the first half. Ms. Nissman has long been identified with the Russian's compositions and played everything superbly, eliciting in the Visions, each fewer than two minutes, disparate and complex pianistic vignettes. In No.1 Ms. Nissman found a droll, wandering scene, and the nostalgia of the eighth. Toccata rhythms of percussive dissonance were brought out in No. 14, and a Satie-like lethargy of the concluding No. 1.

Prokofiev’s one-movement Op. 28 Sonata has always been a Nissman specialty and she began at a fast clip, the bright and dry piano sound ideal for the driving tempest of the work. Here the artist and composer became one and I cannot remember a better performance of this pointillist and virtuosic Sonata. The accelerando in the coda was potent, the bravura intoxicating.

Three Rachmaninoff Preludes, all in a variant of G, began the second half. The popular and bucolic G major from Op.32 had many individual touches and a unique rush in the concluding bars. The G-Sharp Minor Prelude, from the same set, drew an evocative sound of troika bells and the pianist stressed the cool colors of the work, long associated with Horowitz. From Op. 23, the concluding G-Flat Major Prelude had the requisite lyricism but was also a prosaic in phrasing, needing a touch of repose.

The afternoon's major work, Liszt's B Minor Sonata, surprisingly closed the recital as it usually closes the first half. Quiet endings are seldom part of a final work in a piano recital. Santa Rosa has recently heard the Sonata in the hands of Bronfman, Ohlsson, Hewitt, Spooner and also eight years ago from Ms. Nissman in SRJC's Newman Auditorium. Her performance hasn't changed much, and was again individual in the approach to exhibiting reserved dynamics, attention to structure at the expense of heroics and brilliant scale passages. The artist sporadically sounded frenetic in rapid octaves (forceful but not majestic) but they never failed her, and the velocity of the fugue was compelling. Ms. Nissman worked hard to get color from the hall’s piano treble, with some success, and her legato playing was seductive. In sum, and unconventional and at times perplexing reading of this great work that on balance succeeded because of her strong individual vision.

Applause was large but not loud, but Ms. Nissman was determined to perform Ginastera, choosing the final two of the Dances Argentinas (Op.2) as encores. Associated with the prolific Argentine composer for decades, the pianist played the popular Danza de la Moza donosa and Danza del gaucho matero with palpable energy and attractive guitar-like rhythms. As in the Prokofiev, identification with the works was total and the playing ne plus ultra.