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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, 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.