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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.