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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
RECITAL REVIEW
Music at Oakmont / Thursday, February 11, 2016
Joel Fan, piano

Pianist Joel Fan

FAN RETURNS TO OAKMONT IN AN ECLECTIC RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 11, 2016

New York-based pianist Joel Fan hasn’t been a stranger to Sonoma County, having played in both the Concerts Grand and Music at Oakmont venues. February 11 he returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium in an eclectic and often electric recital before 200.

Beginning with Ginastera’s first Sonata Op. 22, Mr. Fan gave the popular work from 1952 a pulsating reading that stressed the contrasting textures and meters. In the Presto double octaves didn’t fail him, and there was palpable mystery and lovely soft playing in the Adagio molto. Even here there is a continual restless quality that the pianist portrayed. In the Ruvido ed ostinato finale Mr. Fan managed the toccata-like effects without pounding, the clarity of the chords and skips admirable. The composer wrote it with a distinct nod to Prokofiev’s famous Precipitato movement from his Seventh Sonata of 1943.

It was a reading that brought out the needed motor excitement of Ginastera’s piano writing (as in the “Danza del Gaucho Matrero” from the earlier Danzas Argentinas), and Mr. Fan spoke to the audience reflecting on his Ginastera interest and the centenary of the composer’s birth.

Recently Mr. Fan toured China and brought to the Berger stage three fetching works from the trip, Autumn Moon Over the Still Lake, Liuyang River and Plum Blossom. All were audience favorites. The tranquil “Autumn” featured murmuring arpeggios and subtle pedal effects, and “River” was a jaunty exploration of colorful harmonic progressions, faintly Ravel-like. There were lots of notes and a movie-music background effect, aural pleasure in every phrase.

Jianzhong Wang’s “Plum” was the most complex of the three, exploring more the bass register of the piano and featuring pedal point, counterpoint in the variations and little bursts of energy. Mr. Fan played them sui generis. These not-recent works are wholly conservative harmonically but no less charming for it. An intriguing and happily satisfying program choice by Mr. Fan.

Following intermission Liszt’s B Minor Sonata was played, a seminal 19th century romantic work that is the center of any recital where at appears. A good performance should clock in at about 30 minutes, giving
breathing space for the chorale and lyrical segments in the midst of the famous Presto octave passages and massive fistfuls of chords. The pianist never faltered in the Sonata’s formidable technical demands, but the 26-minute performance duration (a la Argerich) disclosed some important shortcomings.

This afternoon Mr. Fan mounted a conception of the 1853 one-movement Sonata that featured quick phrases, clarity in passagework, silvery octaves and clean fast trills. This approach has many admirable facets, as it moves the often dense interior writing into distinct small sections, illuminating the repeated left-hand motives and unifying what to some is a sprawling structure. The pianist’s dry and then half-pedal runs were precise and often sparkling, and the fermata before the coda was long and put a cap on the preceding and powerful octave-laden drama.

Missing in the performance was a critical part of Liszt’s genius, that of majesty. Again and again the score unfolded in hurried phrase endings and transitions, lack of rubato in voice leading and musical nobility that can come with reveling in the instrument’s sonority, and for many the B Minor Sonata’s heroism and religious underpinnings. An example of these omissions would be the perdendosi and triple piano 14-bar section before the beginning of the fugue, where Mr. Fan’s mundane playing overlooked the haunting character of the sublime and anticipatory writing.

Two encores were offered to solid but not strenuous applause, Piazzolla’s “Flora’s Game” and a popular contemporary Japanese song, “Castle in the Sky.” Both were played compellingly, the first a captivating seven-minute tango that could also have come from Villa-Lobos or Ginastera. Piazzolla has a lock on beguiling classical music milango tangos, reminding venerable Oakmont listeners of pianist Gila Goldstein’s “Oblivion” tango performance on the same stage.

The second (“Castle”) was the pianist’s own transcription with a more interesting harmonic structure, beautifully played with luminous tone and deft phrasing.

Joel Fan’s artistry has matured in many ways since appearing at Oakmont in 2011, and his playing now is more polished and sure footed. And he is a master programmer, balancing the new, old, foreign, familiar and conventional in consummately impressive parts.