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Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
Opera
DONIZETTI'S DON PASQUALE HAS LYRICAL CHARM IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
by Elly Lichenstein
Friday, July 14, 2017
Mendocino Music Festival's production of Donizetti's beloved opera buffa Don Pasquale - a one-night affair July 15 that was presented in an enormous tent on a greensward overlooking the Pacific Ocean - delighted an audience of more than 600 while doing some real justice to this frothy gem of commedi...
Recital
NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the ...
OTHER REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Sunday, July 10, 2016
Festival Orchestra, Alan Pollack, conductor. Stephan Prutsman, piano.

Pianist Stephan Prutsman

ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL'S BIG TENT

by Kayleen Asbo
Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Mendocino Music Festival is highlighting Beethoven this summer, and July 10’s program in the tent could have appropriately borrowed the subtitle from Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography of the composer, Anguish and Triumph.

The Festival’s second classical concert paired two Beethoven works with Tchaikovsky’s brooding Fifth Symphony in E Minor, Op. 64. It was an apt pairing, showing both sides of the two mercurial composers, each of whom were both plagued by acute despair, struggled through enormous life challenges, and used music autobiographically to wrestle with their demons and chart a course towards renewed hope and confidence.

The program had a rousing start with the jubilant finale of Beethoven’s A Major (Seventh) Symphony, Op.92. Written at the apotheosis of his fame and fortune, this symphony was during Beethoven’s lifetime one of the most celebrated and cherished of his compositions, with movements frequently repeated in performance, excerpted to stand alone, and even inserted into other symphonies. The brisk tempo and passionate, climactic crescendo (supported ably by the stirring tympani) set the tone for the concert: this would be an evening of bold gestures and dramatic contrasts.

Pianist Stephen Prutsman then performed the Beethoven Third Concerto, Op. 37, to exuberant applause. Clearly well beloved by the Festival audience, his affable smile showed him to be confident and at ease in approaching this pivotal work. Written in Beethoven’s “fate” key of c minor (the same key of his iconic Fifth Symphony), the dark and ominous opening was crisply articulated by the strings before the theme was boldly proclaimed in brass. Mr. Prutsman’s initial pianistic entrance stressed the heroic aspect of the composer’s musical personality before giving way to gossamer trills and delicate arpeggios. The alternating “velvet and steel” approach was particularly effective in the developmental section as a rising wind began to whip around the performance tent, adding outside drama. If technically there were some moments of stumbling in the challenging cadenza, there were also moments of great beauty, as when Mr. Prutsman lavished deep tenderness on the gorgeous second theme.

Though orchestra and soloist needed more communion and perhaps eye contact in order to be in sync with one another at the end of the pianistic runs, the conclusion of the cadenza brought them together. Beginning sotto voce they rose in urgent unison to deliver a stirring and effective climax.

As in the previous day’s concert of Bach, the most sublime moment of the versatile Mr. Prutsman’s performance was damaged by noise beyond his control. The opening of the pensive Largo was a soulful model of exquisite gentleness. Stretching the outer reaches of the score’s slow tempo and pianissimo markings, Mr. Prutsman poured his soul into the opening melodies. Tragically, the coughing, rustling and talking of the audience, combined with the mounting stirring of the wind rattling the tent, meant that some of the most delicate and inward moments that followed were simply inaudible. What was clear was the ethereal and shimmering Arpeggios of the middle section as a floating melody was passed lovingly back and forth between flutist Mindy Rosenfeld and bassoonist Carolyn Lockhart with grace and loveliness. The movement was brought to a serene close with almost hymn-like solemnity.

The playing in the concluding good-natured Rondo offered a peasant-like contrast to the tender fragility of the second movement. Mr. Prutsman showed the giocoso side of his pianistic personality with athletic energy, good humor and almost comedic dynamic contrasts. The finest ensemble playing of the Concerto occurred in the virtuosic finale, showing how capable Mr. Prutsman can be with sparkling passagework as the driving momentum of the coda brought the delighted audience cheering to their feet.

After intermission the Festival Orchestra took on the challenge of Tchaikovsky’s mighty Fifth. This piece was written in 1888 during a period of mid-life despair, and could be titled “Though the Dark Woods”. The repeated use of a “fate” motif is one of Tchaikovsky’s links with Beethoven. The persistent “march of doom” is re-iterated over and over, swelling and transforming to a harrowing and brilliant fanfare of brass and tympani before returning once again to darkness and obscurity. The orchestra achieved a beautiful tonal balance throughout, at times haunting, at other times blazing with power and passion. Once again bassoonist Ms. Lockhart stood out for her expressive playing.

The second movement begins with one of the most poignant horn soloes in all of the orchestral literature. The frequent swelling crescendos and unresolved harmonic sequences, a hallmark of the composer, were awash in swooning Romanticism.

The third movement (Scherzo, Pizzicato Ostinato) requires lightening orchestral quickness and exact precision in instrumental sections. Beginning as a graceful waltz, the scurrying passagework is played pianissimo in the strings and had echoes that are reminiscent of the lyric sweep that characterizes the composer’s Ballet “Sleeping Beauty” from 1890.

The finale transforms the “fate” motif almost violently into a major key. Here conductor Allan Pollack drew a shimmering sonority from the orchestra, building an accelerated momentum with playing that had intense energy and commitment. Rapid tempo changes were exact and the Symphony ended in a blaze of glory.

It has been twenty years since I last heard the Festival Orchestra, and it’s playing now is far more professional. Mr. Pollack was visibly pleased with the Festival Orchestra performance, beaming at the players between movements, and the ecstatic “bravos” from the audience were boisterous amidst the second standing ovation of the night.