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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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.