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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 ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Saturday, October 12, 2013
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson

VENTURING INTO THE UNKNOWN

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 12, 2013

Along with pianist Garrick Ohlsson's formidable technique and artistry, curiosity has been a hallmark of his long career. Though playing the conventional repertoire superbly, he constantly ventures into unknown corners of piano music.

The centerpiece of his Oct. 12 recital at Weill Hall in Rohnert Park was the seldom-heard Liszt work Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem Unam, written for organ in 1852 and transcribed for piano in 1897 by Busoni. In 23 minutes, Liszt (or should it be Busoni?) builds a massive structure that tested the sonic extremes of the hall's new piano. Mr. Ohlsson began the work's questioning and solemn first theme with care and perfect chordal weighting, and the clarity of lines in an occasionally clangorous sonic mix was exemplary. The playing was mostly orchestral for nearly 13 minutes, then the sun came out in a lovely chorale that points to Liszt's daring late-period harmonies. It's easy in this work to make too many tempo modifications, but Mr. Ohlsson adopted a rock-solid pace, even when building rock-splitting sonorities.

The fugue began judiciously and was carried in short passages until a thunderous conclusion. Also admirable were the lengthy right-hand scale runs and scintillating parallel octaves. The Ad Nos demands stamina as well as technical brilliance, and Mr. Ohlsson had ample amounts of both. A standing ovation followed the final chord, with some in the audience seeming dazed by what they had heard.

Was the rest of the program thrown into the shade by this prodigious performance? Not really, although the six Debussy studies that began the second half sounded a little prosaic. The selections from Book I exploit wildly contrasting moods. Mr. Ohlsson lavished here his considerable beauty of timbre and control of technical details, such as colorful glissandi, will-of-the-wisp passages and rapid chords in pesky close-hand positions. He has very large hands but manages to solve with apparent ease Debussy's most intricate figurations. The third selection in double fourths, Pour les Quartes, had a perfect impressionistic legato and was almost lapidary in execution.

The first half began with Brahms' B Minor and G Minor Op. 79 Rhapsodies, and the recital finished with Chopin's F Minor Fantasy, Op. 49. Both Brahms were big-boned readings, wonderfully bass-heavy with deft left-hand crossover passages capturing the turbulent character of the first and the fatalistic and extroverted character of the second. It was echt Brahms for the connoisseur.

I have heard Mr. Ohlsson's rendition of the Chopin Fantasy several times, but this performance was the most inspired and interesting. He began pensively with deft touches, including three extended fermatas and subtly rolled left-hand chords. The lyricism appeared in the first of three main theme repetitions where the contrary octave playing was resounding and accurate. The chaste chorale section was delicately played, but the final version of the march was treated to an unexpected accelerando leading to a bravura and passionate ending.

Two encores satisfied the happy crowd of 900, beginning with the aristocratic C-Sharp Minor Chopin Waltz from Op. 64. Mr. Ohlsson had fun with this work, making wily rhythmic alterations at each returning theme and stressing the languorous nature of the piece until the end, when speed and delicacy prevailed. It's hard to play very fast and also softly, but it's outwardly child's play for Mr. Ohlsson. A volcanic performance of Rachmaninoff's ever-popular C-Sharp Minor Prelude closed the recital, with playing as individual and convincing as all that had come before.