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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
Green Music Center / Sunday, January 22, 2017
Wei Luo, piano

Wei Luo Playing Shostakovich Jan. 22 (J. McNeill photo)

RISKY SPEED IN POTENT LUO RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 22, 2017

Each half of pianist Wei Luo’s Schroeder Hall recital Jan. 22 contained beguiling interpretations and consummate technical command of Shostakovich and Albeniz works, but each half finished with less than exalted playing.

Two of Shostakovich’s Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues opened the recital, from the wonderful set of 24 that are played often, and by such disparate artists as jazz pianist Keith Jarrett and the Russian Tatiana Nikolayeva (the dedicatee).

Ms. Luo chose the D Major (No. 5) and the grandiose D Minor that concludes the set. The first received a jaunty reading that emphasized the rippling chords in the treble and subtle right-hand voices that were well mated to the hall’s warmly voiced piano. In the fugue repeated notes were played with just the right dry touch that moved to a forceful end. But no less forceful was the great 24th Prelude and Fugue, starting with sonorous bell notes and moving inexorably to the big-boned fugue of considerable power. A mature and potent interpretation.

Beethoven’s C Major “Waldstein” Sonata should have been the recital’s capstone, but was not, as Ms. Luo chose a tempo that constantly blurred passage work and dynamics that overwhelmed the Sonata’s humor and classical impact. It was predictable playing for a young artist – minimal attention to ritards, over pedaled and with scales where individual notes sank into a sonic bog. Wit in this intricate movement was absent.

The playing in the chaste Adagio was also predictable, slow to the point of losing focus and too loud at the one place that builds a climax.

Pianists all play the opening of the marvelous Rondo (save for Hofmann’s stunning interpretation recorded in 1938) in the same soporific way, and Ms. Luo followed this practice. And she took the conventional path of blurring the sound with no pedal change in the fifth measure, giving the swirling phrase a wash of color at the expense of clarity. By punching out so many chords so loudly the humor of the Rondo was lost, and the modestly sized Schroeder Hall was overwhelmed with percussive and forte-fortissimo sound. Virtuosity in Beethoven doesn’t always have to be stridently tumultuous.

The long trills were played well and the artist chose to play the glissando octaves in two hands as fast scales. Applause from the audience of 125 was polite but not extended.

Following intermission playing of a different sort came in three Book I selections from Albéniz’ masterful Iberia. “Evocación” was carefully phrased and unfolded without hurry and with rich tone color. “El Puerto” was also evocative along with a “skittish” character, wholly suited to the piece. Rhythmic variety and a husky sonority were present in the concluding “El Corpus en Sevilla”. There was no applause, the audience perhaps simply happy to hear so many provocative details in this mesmerizing Spanish music.

The Albéniz is far harder to play than Prokofiev’s B Flat major Sonata (No. 7) that closed the program, and the Op. 83 Sonata is arguably the most played 20th Century piano sonata. Dennis Matsuev presented a volcanic rocket-speed performance of it in Weill several months ago, and Ms. Luo began the opening march loudly but with the tricky rhythms well in place. The composer was said to have wanted most of his Sonatas played with machine-like rhythmic control, and Ms. Luo has this in abundance.

The slow movement (maybe a rose between two thorns?) had the requisite mystery only at the end, and the bass often covered the right hand tune. The famous Precipitato was played as perpetual motion and it was easily enough to generate palpable excitement. It’s that kind of piece, raucous with the punctuation of four furious B Flat ending chords.

Ms. Luo offered one encore, Rachmaninoff’s transcription of his Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14. Her interpretation of this short melancholic song was sobering, convincing and beautiful.