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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...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Recital
PIANISTIC COMMAND IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, October 08, 2017
Nikolay Khozyainov’s Oct. 8 debut at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall was one of those rare moments in a young artist’s career when a performance approaches perfection. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s A-Flat Major Sonata (Op. 110) through a delightful recital ending transcription, the ...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Thursday, July 14, 2016
Robert Henry, piano

Pianist Robert Henry

OF ANGELS, DEMONS AND ENCORES

by Kayleen Asbo
Thursday, July 14, 2016

Each successive event at this summer’s Mendocino Music Festival has brought an unfolding cornucopia of delights. Elements of the exceptional three previous classical programs coalesced July 14 into a magnificent and singular tour de force when pianist Robert Henry traversed the entire topography of the keyboard while offering humor, personal warmth, intimacy and musical perfection. It was an afternoon that braved every extremity of dynamics, technical demands and emotional landscapes. Evoking angels and demons at the keyboard, Mr. Henry also garnered the most rapturous response of the festival thus far: four standing ovations.

Speaking in a light Georgian drawl, the charming pianist introduced each set of pieces, at times demonstrating elements of what was to come from the instrument, and offering insights into both the composers and the music.

The afternoon opened with the understated performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 38 in F minor. Here Mr. Henry was a paragon of Apollonian perfection, offering a balance of melody and accompaniment, crystalline runs and gracious trills that tapered beautifully at the ends of phrases in anticipation of the deceptive cadences. In his introduction, the artist referenced the importance of silence in creating Haydn’s witty style. Unlike Beethoven, whose sense of humor can be caustic, rude and bombastic at times, Haydn is always a gentleman, with musical jokes that are refined rather than course. This sonata is a wonderful example of the gracious playfulness that is Haydn’s signature, a trait Mr. Henry captured with delicacy and grace.

The tragic elegance of the Adagio showed a masterful control of balance and nuance as the music modulated back and forth through minor and major keys, conveying a quality of smiling through tears. It seemed as if Mr. Henry was challenging himself to play with even more expression and tenderness in the repeats, reaching inward to pull each masterfully crafted note from the depths.

The concluding Presto was all wit and whimsy, as Mr. Henry tossed off the rapid-fire passagework with an enchanting lightness of touch and deftness of articulation. There was not a note out of place, with plenty of dynamic contrast to enjoy throughout.

Overshadowed in our time by her older sister Nadia Boulanger (perhaps the most formidable composition teacher in the 20th century) Lili Boulanger was the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome award for composition. Tragically dying at 24, most of her surviving works are written for chorus. Mr. Henry offered the three surviving solo piano works that showed affinities with the music of the Impressionists, particularly her teacher Gabriel Faure. Each piece captured a “whiff of emotion”. The opening D’un vieux jardin (The Old Garden) unfolded in a hazy halo of languid tones, where the parallel open chords conjured memories of Debussy’s La Cathedrale Engloutie. The concluding Cortege brought a sense of bright, bubbling and syncopated rhythm and a vaguely Iberian sound. The set was beautifully rendered with sensitivity and fidelity to the score.

The first half came to a climactic conclusion with Carl Vine’s monumental Sonata No. 1, from 1990. Described by the pianist as a “Kitchen Sink” piece that uses all 88 keys, all three pedals and every piano technique I’ve ever encountered. It is a fiendishly difficult work of ferocious contrasts, alternating sections of brooding mystery and hypnotic slowness with percussive ostinato sections and clangorous quartal harmonies. The piece accelerates in a sense of growing apocalyptic terror, with repeated glissandi amid a perpetual mobile driving pattern buried in the lowest register of the bass.

It is a piece that rivals some of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes or Hungarian Rhapsodies for sheer bravura passagework and physical demands. And yet, in the middle of such almost demonic intensity, Mr. Henry sat in calm repose. While his fingers flashed with a blinding speed and precision, his body remained relaxed and at ease, his face a mirror of implacable serenity. I was reminded of the story of the Buddha on the night of his Enlightenment, sitting in meditation as the demons whirled about. Because of his almost superhuman performance of this work and because of the excellent and engaging preface, the audience was able to hear this challenging work with rapt attention and admiration, standing enthusiastically (though seemingly stunned) at its conclusion.

The second half of the program offered a deeply personal and meditative interpretation of Robert Helps’ Portrait, composed in 1960. Once again demonstrating his versatility, Mr. Henry brought a transparent, ethereal quality to the chorale sections while building an explosive power in the dramatic crescendos.

The final piece on the program was Brahms’ epic Handel Variations, Op. 24. The 25 variations followed by a fugue were spun out with clarity and tonal beauty. It was all here: some variations conveyed a rhapsodic elegance, spinning a web of aching darkness. Others evoked a Hungarian circus with the snapping syncopations. Sounds of ethereal angels and lumbering elephants alternated, and throughout a sense of line and purpose we palpable.

The ecstatic audience, marveling at the poise, command and consummate musicianship of the artist, rose at the end of the fugue to cheer. Four ovations with three Chopin encores followed, performed with that rare combination of elegance, understated emotion and consummate technical prowess.

The ever-generous Mr. Henry personally shook hands with each audience member as they reluctantly left Preston Hall and a memorable afternoon.