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Recital
HOME RECITAL BACH COMPLETES HOLIDAY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The just closing 2017 year was a calamity for many, but locally in music there were joys galore, and it was fitting Dec. 30 have the balm of two Bach’s violin sonatas in a private Guerneville home recital hosted by the eminent musician Sonia Tubridy. Violinist Richard Heinberg joined Ms. Tubridy in...
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 WITH 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...
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.