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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.