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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 ...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Jon Nakamatsu / Sunday, November 30, 2008
Jon Nakamatsu, Pianist

Jon Nakamatsu

NAKAMATSU OFFERS PROVOCATIVE MUSICAL INTOXICATION

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Many components go into a fine piano recital — the artist’s technique, rhythmic control, range of tonal colors, choice of repertoire, and even stamina. All can combine to make a first-rate performance. But in recent local recitals, a key part for listeners — the aspect of being thrilled — has gone missing. Not so for Bay Area hero Jon Nakamatsu, who provided thrills across the musical spectrum on Nov. 30 in a sensational Newman Auditorium recital for the Concerts Grand series in Santa Rosa.

Before a nearly full house, liberally sprinkled with musicians, Nakamatsu performed mostly dance-related pieces with masterly control of line and color. His recital was an object lesson in projection of difficult music, nearly all which required resolute concentration by listeners and rewarded such close attention with sonic delights.

Beginning with Haydn’s Sonata No. 33 in C Minor, Nakamatsu quickly demonstrated why his playing is nonpareil. Each of the three movements had lift and clarity, his careful use of dynamics and articulation highlighting the drama and pathos. Haydn’s sonatas seem to be almost displacing those of Mozart and Scarlatti, a welcome development. All was in impeccable order, whetting the appetite for a big work from the Romantic era.

Carnaval is one of Schumann’s masterpieces, not often played in Santa Rosa, and several seasoned members of the audience could only recall a long-ago Claudio Arrau performance for the Community Concerts series. Nakamatsu’s reading is likewise sure to linger in the memory. His balanced phrasing and economy of motion in both hands was a marvel, the fleet scales and coloristic effects becoming an object lesson for each of the piece’s 22 sections. He can play very fast with nary a slip, and only the tempo in the Paganini part causing some missed notes in the wide right-hand skips. Rachmaninoff’s famous recording is of equal speed, and praise for Nakamatsu can thus go no higher. The final left-hand crossover chord brought a roar from the crowd, to my mind the loudest and most prolonged “noise” heard in Newman, surpassing the tumult offered to Garrick Ohlsson after his 2007 Liszt B Minor Sonata. In his remarks to the audience at the beginning of the second half. Nakamatsu acknowledged the commotion by saying that he thought he couldn’t perform much better, and reflected about driving off in his car, but of course remembered that another 45 minutes of playing was in front of him!

And it was an eminent second half, led off by five piquant Danses Fantastiques, Op. 2, of Iranian-American composer Loris Tjeknavorian. Each of the five told a different story, some vaguely reminiscent of Bartok, some scattered tableaux spiced with contrary motion octaves, powerful sforzandos and false cadences. Originally part of a 1962 ballet, these dances deserve repertoire status. Several people later asked the pianist about getting a copy of the score.

Far from dissonance, but nonetheless harmonically divergent, were two short Liszt Impromptus, the first dedicated to an admirer of the composer, Princess Gortschakoff. As in many late Liszt works, the wistfulness dominated, bathed in a precursor of Impressionism. The more popular Valse Impromptu found Nakamatsu in a playful mood, adding small alterations to the rhythms and catching with gorgeous dexterity the work’s insouciance.

Completing the program was the so called “Dante’ Sonata, a single-movement piece that is perhaps closer to Berlioz than anything Liszt ever wrote. Its pictorial drama is difficult for many to comprehend, as the free rhapsodic style depicts a turbulent Paradise and juxtaposes a stark variety of theatrical scenes. Nakamatsu made a cohesive case with scintillating octaves, forte block chords and shimmering tremolos, all part of a convincing whole. It was one of the best readings of the work I have ever heard, and the audience exacted two encores, each a testimony to Nakamatsu’s elegant pianism.

Mendelssohn’s celebrated Introduction and Rondo Capriccio, Op. 14, was the proper tonic after the Liszt pyrotechnics. All was in place — repose, sparkling scales, controlled passage work and a suitably rousing ending. The Fourth Chopin Impromptu followed, the “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” motif from Tin Pan Alley fame sung with grace and delicate finger staccato.

The recital was a throwback to what Hofmann, Busoni, Rachmaninoff and Horowitz did in the last century, combining sovereign pianistic execution with extraordinary emotional impact. Jon Nakamatsu achieved a similar result with the great Steinway last Sunday, drawing listeners into a rare 90 minutes of provocative musical intoxication.

Note: The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand series.