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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...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, April 01, 2016
Andre Watts, piano

Pianist Andre Watts at the end of his April 1 Weill Hall Recital

LISZT AND CHOPIN THE VEHICLE FOR ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATTS' WEILL HALL RECITAL

by Nicki Bell
Friday, April 01, 2016

In the public eye for more than 50 years, Andre Watts is a legendary American pianist from the bygone era of William Kapell and Gary Graffman. Dressed in concert tails, old fashioned now to some, he reverted April 1 to a another long ago virtuoso’s choice by bringing to his Weill Hall recital his own piano and technician.

He played a program of popular works – Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and Liszt – but it took a while for the artist to hit his stride. He began with Mozart’s deceptively simple A Minor Rondo, K. 511, and all the pianistic elements were in place but the notes seemed disconnected from any palpable life force. The rest of the first half was Schubert: Drei Klavierstücke and the C Major Fantasy (“Wanderer”), Op. 15. The Klavierstücke are really a set of impromptus, though not as famous as the Op. 90 and 142 sets, and were written in the last year of the composer’s short life. As with the Mozart, it took time to adjust to Mr. Watts’ touch, as it was often harsh with a muddy piano sound and frequent over-pedaling. Yet, there were beautiful voicings, accurate fingers, wide dynamic range and plenty of drama.

The “Wanderer” had plenty of that drama and abundant virtuosity in the Presto and Allegro, an expressive Adagio, but it wasn’t magical Schubert. It was as though the audience of 800 was being driven in a high-powered vehicle but seeing just the road, not the bucolic scenery, and the notes were disconnected from the palpable musical fabric. The fugue had momentum but didn’t lead inexorably to the potent coda.

Fortunately the second half was a different experience, as the musical vehicle left the road and drove into a colorful countryside. The music found its breath, and Mr. Watts, a fine Liszt and Chopin player, shaped the music in exploration and not simply presentation.

Chopin’s beloved G Minor Ballade (Op. 23) was first, a work the Pole wrote in his early twenties, and highlights the composer’s creative and technical abilities. The reading had elegance and sweeping filigree with the delicate and dreamy contrasting with the passionate and brilliant. It was a bold performance, but expressive silkiness would have to wait for the programmed Liszt pieces.

The Liszt had two etudes framing four pieces composed late in the composer’s life. First came The D Flat Concert Etude (Un Sospiro), full of deft arpeggios, and Mr. Watts underscored the beautiful melody plucked from the stream of notes in both hands, crossing and uncrossing, with adroit silences that didn’t break the line. The final notes were played quietly, a resolution.

Mr. Watts’ virtuosity is at home in Liszt and he captured the shimmering trills in Nuages Gris (gray clouds), bell sounds in the 1885 Nocturne En Rêve (a dream), and the premonition of death in a Dante Infernoesque La Lagubre Gondola (dismal gondola). At that time the composer was preoccupied with melancholy and death, and the piece was a response to watching a Venice canal funeral procession and the prospect of Wagner’s 1883 death. The intensity of Mr. Watts’ playing made time stop with the last wandering notes. “Schlaflas Frage and Antwort (sleepless, question and answer) is a romantic fragment, so chromatic that it is almost unmoored from harmony.

Closing the recital was Study 10 in F Minor, from the 1851 Etudes d’execution transendante, the persistent broken left-hand chord figures were played with pyrotechnical flair.

Following a standing ovation the artist played one encore, Chopin’s C-Sharp Minor Nocturne from Op. 27, and crafted an exultant mid-section climax that dropped back to a charming Mazurka and big-toned octave cadenza. The final notes hung into almost a silent eternity before a burst of thunderous applause.