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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 itís 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 Handelís seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if itís 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 Purcellís Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the schoolís 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 Rossiniís ďWilliam TellĒ 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 Philharmonicís 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, May 06, 2016
Yuja Wang, piano

Yuja Wang at Weill Hall. (Photo by Susan Dzieza.)

AT THE BOUNDARIES OF MUSICAL EXPLORATION

by Sonia Morse Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Friday, May 06, 2016

On May 6 at Weill Hall, pianist Yuja Wang gave a much-anticipated recital of Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven. This young artist has been heralded internationally for her brilliant virtuosic technique and sensational performances. In this recital, her first to focus on a Beethoven sonata, she played his monumental "Hammerklavier" (op. 106), as well as Brahms' Ballades (Op. 10, Nos. 1/2) and Schumann's "Kreisleriana."

Wang began with the Brahms with the first Brahms Ballade, nicknamed "Edward" after a Scottish murder ballad. The opening was hushed and brooding, with Wang's fingers evoking vast spaces and sorrow, but also consolation and peace. It was magical sound painting with remarkable dynamic control. From the first quiet chord, Wang pulled the audience of around 1,000 with her to a place of intensely focused attention, swelling to loud and heavy chords and then back to whispers of sound.

The second Ballade brought the light of a major tonality in rising figures over a murmuring tide-like bass pattern. An ominous sixteenth-note pattern interrupts the delicate flow, leading to a vigorous gallop and then back to a sense of beauty and peaceful joy. This music was intimate and thoughtful, every sound meaningfully reflecting the depth of the composer's spirit. Wang could sing with gentle softness and contrast this with thick chords of great drama. Particularly moving were a beautiful tenor melody and masterful layering of sounds.

Schumann's Kreisleriana was in part inspired by an ETA Hoffman story about a composer named Kreisler who is not appreciated by "philistines" who just want light entertainment. The piece features Schumann's two contrasting musical personality types: Florestan and Eusebius. Fiery Florestan bursts forth, but Eusebius is relaxed, contemplative and dreamy. Wang succeeded in creating the different voices, growing out of each other, complementing inner dialogues and a sense of exploration. Grotesque and lyrical sections emerged, capriciousness and poetic song followed each other. Wang's artistry was exquisite and led to precious moments when pianist, instrument and listeners become immersed in an enveloping musical consciousness. When the story reached an end, Wang concluded with charm and humor. The pianistic clarity was a delight.

The second half of the program consisted entirely of the Hammerklavier sonata, composed by Beethoven in a period of great personal anguish culminating in the suicide of his beloved nephew. It is a forbidding challenge, both technically and musically. The opening chords of the Allegro, with their dotted rhythms, were suitably heroic and quickly dissolved into small groupings of motives that were constantly transformed, sometimes sounding like free improvisations and other times being pulled back to strict form. Wang used the enormous range of her instrument to create full orchestral sounds, deep rumbles, ethereal floating pitches, wild outbursts and calm sections, often simultaneously.

The fierce Scherzo, punctuated by furious repeated octaves, led to the Adagio, the heart of the sonata. This started with simple understatement and then increasing inner motion, leading to transcendental conciliation. The bridge at the end leads through uncertainty to the Finale, a fugue in three voices. The movement is a tour de force of composition, requiring of the performer virtuosic leaps, trills and furious tempi, all while managing a lengthy 108-note fugal subject.

A great performance of the Hammerklavier can grab the audience and carry it to the edge of madness until the final solid chords set them down on firm land, forever altered. Wang was up to this task. She played with courage, fire and a mature understanding of this unique and transformative sonata.

Thunderous applause had Wang return for four entertaining encores, seriousness eschewed for the complex rhythms of Kapustin's Toccata. Then two transcriptions: the Gluck/Svengeti "Dance of the Spirits" and the Schubert/Lizst "Gretchen am Spinnrade." The final encore was a humorous, jazzy arrangement of Mozart's "Rondo alla Turk" by Volotus. Wang's spirited pleasure in her own formidable abilities marked a lighthearted end to a serious and emotionally demanding program.