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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
RECITAL REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Lang Lang, piano

Lang Lang Playing Chopin's Aeolian Harp Study Feb. 17

CHOPIN, CHOPIN, LANG, LANG

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It’s always a recital of surprises when the exciting pianist Lang Lang plays. In a reprise concert from last season’s Weill Hall opening gala, the Chinese virtuoso eschewed 2012’s conventional format of Mozart Sonatas and Chopin Ballades and chose Sept. 17 a mixed bag of Chopin works that alternatively titillated and enraptured a full house that included 50 stage seats.

Mr. Lang’s pianism is startlingly complete with an inexhaustible command of technical details. Even in difficult cross-hand and speedy double-note passages, or in wide skips for both hands, his aim is infallible, and his pedaling precise. This was quickly evident in the opening G Minor Ballade, Op. 23, where the introduction and first theme were played ever so slowly. Slow thematic development is a hallmark of his playing, mostly a good thing, as Mr. Lang was clearly going to tell hearers a story with this and the F Major and F Minor Ballades. He did this by often teasing the phrase endings that almost broke the melodic lines and the story arc. Almost but not quite. And although he rarely tampers with the score, in the First and Fourth Ballade the pianist added long ritards in unique places and little sforzandi and deep bass notes to seemingly spice the texture.

The C-Sharp Minor Study of Op. 25 was pensive and achingly slow, as was the F Major Nocturne from Op. 15, the second work for me the loveliest performance of the first half. Closing the first part brilliantly was the E Flat Waltz of Op. 18, the flurry of repeated notes powerfully played and with a maximum amount of facial mugging and torso stretching.

Contrary to many notions, Mr. Lang’s best playing comes not from pyrotechnical scales and calculated drama but from his exquisite and delicate touch in short and long soft passages. His pianissimo control is superb, among the best of any living pianist. An example is the E-Flat Major Nocturne of Op. 55, a piece he played as an encore last year on the same stage, and the super slow tempo worked to his advantage. The high repeated B Flats were shafts of distant light rather than the usually described bell tones. The gold standard for this piece is Ignaz Friedman’s iconic 1936 recording, and Mr. Lang’s playing of this masterful Nocturne was an object lesson of the pianist’s touch and control. At the end, a slightly dissonant b flat-a flat-f-b flat chord hung in the air for seconds, the piano’s perfectly-adjusted damper fall resolving magically into the final resonance of three hushed e-flat chords. Breathtaking.

Chopin’s virtuosic and showy Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise ended the recital and was performed in the currently-accepted juxtaposition of tempos, the delicate Andante slow and dreamy and after a 16-bar introduction, a rapid jeu d’espirit Polonaise. This is the opposite way of past performance practice. But of course the big final five E Flat chords brought down the house, and the pianist played a fetching lyrical Chinese work, “Changes in the Moon,” after remarking to the rapt audience that a glorious late summer full moon was in the sky.

The printed program mixed up the pieces but Mr. Lang in short remarks to the audience announced an extra haunting Mazurka from Op.17, the Op. 25 “Aeolian Harp” Etude (serenely performed) and the D Flat Waltz (“Minute”), the last played with blazing speed, lengthy right-hand trills and a deliciously tasteless ending.

The recital was the first public hearing of the Hall’s newest concert piano, chosen in New York in August by Mr. Lang and prepared by the Hall’s insouciant consulting piano “curator,” Peter Sumner, and staff technician Larry Lobel. Both men were present to greet the artist and hear the instrument put vividly through its paces.

Lang Lang is an artist who has to be taken on his own terms, and what is pretentious playing to some is astounding pianistic entertainment to a great many. Piano recitals are the happy beneficiaries.