Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now it seems to be on almost every...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
Chamber
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
Recital
KENNER'S ALL POLISH RECITAL HAS PADEREWSKI RARITY
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Kevin Kenner’s April 8 recital at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall had been advertised as all-Chopin, but he added a detour into another seminal Polish composer-pianist, Paderewski. Several of Mr. Kenner’s teachers were Poles, he speaks Polish, and he navigated at the piano both composers’ deman...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Chamber
VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018
At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schro...
Choral and Vocal
GOOD FRIDAY REQUIEM FILLS INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 30, 2018
Maurice Duruflé’s short and intense Requiem has been heard in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation before, but the March 30 Good Friday performance was stripped down in the number of performers, combining Cantiamo Sonoma and the St. Cecilia Choir with musical underpinning from organist Robert Youn...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Recital
VIRTUOSIC VARIATIONS IN MORGAN'S SCHROEDER ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Organist Robert Huw Morgan’s artistry spun through the web of early variation form in a Mar. 18 recital on Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh organ. Mr. Morgan, Stanford University’s resident organist, performs a wide range of repertoire, but as he said in comments to the audience, he loves when h...
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.