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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
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 ...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, October 22, 2016
Denis Matsuev, piano

Pianist Denis Matsuev

SOUND AND FURY IN MATSUEV WEILL HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 22, 2016

A touring virtuoso’s reputation often precedes him or her, and usually that’s a good thing. The reputation of a Renée Fleming or a Yo Yo Ma can guarantee a sold out hall, and possibly a great concert. But not always, and so there was some concern at Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s Oct. 23 Weill recital that he would very well be another in a long line of fleet and heavy-handed Slavic pianists. And so it was mostly to be.

Curiously the program’s first item, Beethoven’s autumnal A-Flat Major Sonata, Op. 110, received the night’s most convincing reading. Bounding on the stage Mr. Matsuev went straight to the piano and straight to a quick but workmanlike interpretation of the work, the composer’s penultimate piano sonata. Speed of conception and attack were to be the evening’s norm, but here the non-romantic interpretation had interest and clarity.

In the opening Moderato there was deft left-hand chord voicing and the ritards were in the right places, but never in the unexpected places. An occasional note was held into a following phrase but the artist seldom lets much air into a phrase division, preferring always to forge ahead. The Fugue was a thoroughly modern reading, masterly without mystery, with no relaxing of tempo and no ritard in the final ascending phrase to the final chord.

A standing ovation from the audience of 600 ensued (after the first piece!) and the artist then launched into Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 15. Mr. Matsuev was it his best in the strong rhythmic sections of the 12 studies, wide left-hand skips and in staccato chord phrases. He played the often-omitted five etudes (variations) with a warm touch. Lavish damper pedal was used, underscoring sonic contrasts, but the music had no inner voices, repose or charm. The pianist never seems to slow down, and the potent playing in the ending march produced another standing ovation.

Liszt’s First Mephisto Waltz, a virtuoso specialty that was an odd choice to start the second half, was beautiful in slow sections but cacophonous in the fast ones. It was playing of prodigious speed and power and the contrary octaves at the end were the fastest I have encountered in many years. It’s that kind of piece, but a greater musical impact could have been made with Liszt’s later and cryptic Mephisto Two, Three or Four, or the Bagatelle sans Tonalitie. Pieces of depth and sacrament.

A bon bon before the onslaught of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, Tchaikovsky’s poetic Op. 72 Meditation, was overplayed and too operatic. The Prokofiev B-Flat Major was the expected barnburner piece, arguably the most popular piano sonata of the 20th Century. Mr. Matsuev perfectly caught the snarl and mechanical drive of the first movement Allegro Inquieto. It was a fast, loud and intensive approach to music that mostly demands such treatment.

The playing of the plaintive “rose between the thorns” Andante was brisk and never broke the original rhythm, but there was little notice of the lush harmonies and pensive theme. The ending with its enigmatic soft right-hand chords was haunting.

Mr. Matsuev then charged into the brilliant Precipitato with headlong abandon and Forte chords from the opening racehorse bell. It was a muddy but explosive interpretation that rose in an accelerated roar to four gigantic B-Flat chords. It brought down the house and brought the pianist in a dramatic physical leap from the piano bench to the front of the Weill stage. It was showy and acrobatic, an impressive feat for a husky physique that resembles the artist’s late compatriot Emil Gilels.

From the three encores two were memorable for opposite reasons. Liadov’s Musical Snuff-Box imitates a music box by tinkling in the piano’s upper register, and Mr. Matsuev played the old chestnut with chaste tone and limpid phrasing, teasing the theme with care. Then another volcano erupted, a five-minute work that was first Fats Waller, then Keith Jarrett, and finally a tsunami of flying and noisy figurations and clangorous chords. I have no idea about the identity of the composer, and it was probably the pianist.

An analogy to Mr. Matsuev’s recital might be the famous Vladimir Horowitz 1928 American debut concert performance with Tchaikovsky’s B Flat Minor Concerto. Backstage following the event Rachmaninoff approached Horowitz and said to him (In Russian) “It was very loud, and it was very fast, but it wasn’t very beautiful.”