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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
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...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, October 03, 2015
Lang Lang, piano

Lang Lang Playing Bach 10-3-15 in Weill Hall (Drew Altizer Photo)

LANG LANG LAUNCHES WEILL HALL SEASON WITH EXPLOSIVE MUSICAL TRILOGY

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 03, 2015

Lang Lang has performed three times in Sonoma County, all reviewed at Classical Sonoma, and I was anxious when he mounted the Weill Hall stage Oct. 3 to hear what might have changed in his playing since September of 2013.

The program was exactly the same as played in recent Paris and Torino recitals (on YouTube) so the unique nature of the readings was somewhat familiar. And as the New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini has written, at a Lang Lang concert one hopes for the best.

Much of the best playing came with Tchaikovsky’s 1875 work The Seasons, Op. 37b. The work is more effective with a selection from the set of 12, and in some printed editions and performances the poems that precede each month are written or spoken in Russian. Mr. Lang didn’t opt for this construct (how is his Russian?) but no matter as he put his stamp on each, delighting in the contrasting poetic and stormy episodes. The pianist was achingly languorous in the “June” Barcarolle and Autumn Song “October,” and in “September’s” Hunting Song the volley of octaves in both hands were delivered with telling accuracy. The tempo for “October” was the slowest in memory and created a magical spell.

People always gravitate to Mr. Lang’s pyro techniques, but as in past recitals I find more interest when he uses melting phrases and a captivating pianissimo touch. This is a facet of his art that is mature and will last. In the concluding Christmas-Noël the Tempo di Valse had the appropriate winter enchantment but suffered from a long tasteless accelerando at the end. It’s a quiet ending, rare for a Tchaikowsky piano work, and the applause from the full 1,400 attendees in Weill was loud but not an ovation.

Bach’s popular Italian Concerto (S. 971) closed the first half and the pianist’s opening Allegro was brisk and arresting. New in his playing are abbreviated inner voices. These are not harmonic or stylistic voices that flesh out themes (such as heard in Hofmann and Cherkassky recordings) but piquant peppery accents that sometimes added charm to the music, and sometimes didn’t.

Embellishments were often unique but persuasive in the leisurely Andante and Bach’s swift contrapuntal lines were clear in the concluding Presto. The turn at the end was arpeggiated.

Following an extra-long intermission the artist tackled Chopin’s four Scherzos. Ops. 20, 32, 39 and 54. In past Weill appearances the pianist has played extended sets of Mozart Sonatas and Chopin Ballades, and here the restless and histrionic demands of the great Pole’s music drew aggressive and vehement interpretations. In the first B Minor Scherzo the lyric section was lovingly phrased and the difficult fiery coda powerful and convincing. A standing ovation followed the crashing final chords.

In the B-Flat Minor the performance reminded one of Artur Rubinstein, who played the Scherzo his entire career to close recitals. It had the requisite heroics but not enough of the work’s charm. My gold standard for the second Scherzo is the matinee handsome Pole Witold Malcuzynski, who played it in Berkeley on his farewell American tour with half Mr. Lang’s virtuosity, but with subtle pedaling and chaste majesty. There was brilliant finger technique and sledgehammer force here but strangely many scales, especially descending, were blurred. Yes, it’s hard to play really fast with clean note-to-note symmetry.

There was a standing ovation.

Mr. Lang’s strong fingers mastered the dramatic opening octaves of the C-Sharp Minor Scherzo, as he did beautifully in the chorale theme of leggierissimo arpeggios. This was a raucous spectacle of controlled pianistic fury and another standing ovation ensued, with the additional raw sound of hundreds of seat bottoms snapping to vertical as people jumped up.

A joyous change was the final E Major Scherzo, and Mr. Lang built short climaxes and elected a waltz character that emphasized sunny textures. By again speeding up the beginning of a coda the pianist missed conveying the enchanting phrase where the original rhythm returns. It seems he can’t avoid tinkering with endings that generate gallery-thrilling effects.

A standing ovation greeted Mr. Lang, who acknowledged in all directions from the stage his pleasure in such a triumph, but he didn’t return to the spotlight for a conventional set of encores. He first spoke about his Foundation 101 Pianist program for youth that would be on the same stage the next day, and then spoke of an imminent first trip to Cuba. For that he played a jazzy short Lecuona-like dance piece, as insipid as it was exciting.