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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 / 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.