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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...
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...
RECITAL REVIEW

Lang Lang Anouncing Chopin Encore in Weill (Judy McNeill Photo)

LANG LANG CHRISTENS WEILL HALL WITH MUSICAL SPLENDOR

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 29, 2012

The show isn’t over until the shouting fades away. With the brand-new Weill Hall’s rear wall raised and the evening breezes flowing, the applause from the second and last encore of pianist Lang Lang’s Sept. 29 opening recital might have been heard all the way to Petaluma. It was that kind of concert, unique and memorable.

After more than a decade of construction delays and massive cost overruns, the centerpiece hall of the Green Music Center finally opened with the Chinese superstar kicking off a gala weekend of symphony, choral and pops events. Before 1,400 inside and an estimated 1,000 outside, the pianist delivered sonic and musical goods that were at all times exceptionally exciting but at others equally perplexing.

The artist’s recordings of Haydn sonatas are familiar, but the three Mozart sonatas comprising the entire first half represented Mr. Lang’s first traversal of these works in public performance. Nonetheless, the characteristics of Mr. Lang’s Haydn were everywhere in evidence--crisp articulation, scintillating scale passages and sharp rhythmic contrasts. Graceful indeed was the Andante of the Sonata in G, K. 283, and the Presto finale with swift arpeggios and snappy accents was a delight.

More reflective Mozart appeared in the dreamy first movement of the E Flat Sonata, K. 282. Here the pianist’s repose and tranquil tempos were captivating, demonstrating that spiritual excitement doesn’t have to be strident. The finale was a feast of rapid crystalline scales, generating loud applause from the audience. It was a performance similar to that of Mitsuko Uchida, but with an added layer of Mr. Lang’s signature romantic mannerisms and subtle teasing of phrase endings.

Mozart’s A Minor Sonata, K. 310, dramatically closed the first half. Long rumored to be associated with the death of the composer’s mother, the A Minor is tragic throughout. Mr. Lang brought out the sad majesty in the opening Allegro Maestoso, beginning at a furious clip that never subsided until the final three chords. The single-note repetitions in the Andante Cantabile were played slower than usual, with perfectly weighed trills and a singing line in the right hand.

The artist presented a forceful case in the somber but agitated finale. The persistent rhythmic patterns and tricky leaps were accurate, and the momentum was palpable--yet the music never sounded manic. Indeed, all through the Mozart sonatas, Mr. Lang’s control of pianissimo was superlative, and he deftly shaped trills, often with balanced crescendos. His interpretations may not have been Mozart to everyone’s taste, but I found them effervescent and convincing.

The quartet of Chopin Ballades on the second half is a big undertaking for any pianist, each telling a story of grandeur, pathos and nobility hand in hand with formidable technical demands for the performer. Mr. Lang fearlessly launched into the popular G Minor Ballade, unfolding the narrative enticingly in each of the seven phrase statements. He played the big legato octaves brilliantly and carefully slowed their downward march. The coda was tremendous, drawing a round of bravos from the audience. The pianist clearly had the well-dressed crowd in his musical pocket at this stage of the recital.

A long and simple folk-like introduction begins the F Major Ballade, and Mr. Lang played it with restraint, jumping into the subsequent cascades of sonorities with great passion. His strong fingers carried the day in the coda. This approach continued in the popular A Flat Ballade, arguably the least difficult of the four. Here Mr. Lang was in a playful mood, underscoring an occasional bass note and stretching the rhythms in the recapitulation. His pedaling throughout produced a perfect legato. The last chords exalted.

One of Chopin’s greatest creations finished the recital: the F Minor Ballade. Inside of 10 minutes of playing time the genius Polish composer presents a broad range of emotions--ardor, resignation, heroism, majesty. Mr. Lang’s traversal of this amazing work was at every turn exciting, but the whole was not quite equal to the sum of its parts, more so for what he didn’t do than for what he did. Technically Mr. Lang nailed everything. The double-note passages were sharply etched, and he lingered just the right amount of time in the short chorale section. Just before the coda, where the sonic tension has peaked, Mr. Lang played the five pianissimo chords that quelled the fury and heightened the mystery of the stormy final bars. It was mesmerizing and drew a raucous standing ovation.

What Mr. Lang didn’t do in the F Minor Ballade and elsewhere was to celebrate the vocal nature, albeit a dark one, in so much of Chopin’s music. Toward the end of the Ballade, the great tenor voice and agitated inner left-hand line were sonically lost in the pianist’s demonic drive to get to the five leavening chords, the hurricane of the coda and the finishing fortissimo. Nonetheless, the reading elicited a tsunami of applause and cheers extending beyond the video screens outside the hall and across the campus illuminated by a harvest moon.

Mr. Lang offered two encores, beginning with a languorous performance of Chopin’s E Flat Nocturne, which although tonally splendid needed some rhythmic flexibility. The D Flat Waltz (Minute) followed, incessantly beguiling in its droll effects. The audience roared approval at the last left-hand staccato note (he didn't play the written chord) and recalled the pianist several more times to the stage.

Lang Lang is a consummate pianist who clearly revels in giving an audience an intoxicating mix of musical artistry and entertainment, a sterling combination for the Weill Hall opening concert.