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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.”