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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 ...
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.