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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
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 they seem to be on almost ever...
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...
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.