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Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
Symphony
WHAT SOUND DO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS MAKE?
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the Santa Rosa Symphony feted the occasion by telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet, a tale ever the more poignant during our era of stark divisions. The first telling was from Berlioz; the second from Prokofiev. In between was Brahms’ monu...
Chamber
GOOD OLD WINE IN GOOD OLD BOTTLES AT VOM CONCERT
by Jeff Chan
Saturday, February 11, 2017
February 11 was the first day of sunshine in Sonoma County after nine days of rain, but a nearly full house of music lovers chose to spend their afternoon in Schroeder Hall instead of being outside, soaking up the warm sun. There were two equally compelling reasons to attend this concert, which fea...
Symphony
FUNG TRIUMPHS IN SHOSTAKOVICH CONCERTO WITH VSO
by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Vallejo Symphony Orchestra presented their season’s second concert Jan. 29 in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium, devoted to early Haydn, middle Shostakovich and Beethoven’s ground-breaking “Eroica” Symphony. In remarks to the audiences of nearly 400, Conductor Marc Taddei characterized Haydn’s Sympho...
Chamber
ENSEMBLE PERFECTION IN KLR TRIO'S 40TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Longevity has its place in classical music. Composers and especially conductors live a long time, and venerable piano trios can linger for years. One can recall the great Cortot-Thibaud-Casals staying on the international scene for decades, and more recently Stern-Istomin-Rose, Oistrakh-Oborin-Knu...
Symphony
SUBLIME MOZART CLARINET CONCERTO TOPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Sonoma County Philharmonic’s long history of featuring soloists from the neighborhood struck gold again Jan. 28 with a ravishing Mozart Clarinet Concerto performance with soloist Roy Zajac. Before an audience of 300 the Santa Rosa High School hall the A Major Concerto (K. 626) unfolded gracefully w...
Recital
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 ...
Recital
COLORFUL SCHUBERT AND CHOPIN WARM WEILL HALL IN AX RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Friday, January 20, 2017
On a stormy winter evening Jan. 20 a rainbow of colorful Schubert and Chopin music came from the fingers, feet and heart of pianist Emanuel Ax.  Playing at the Weill Hall for the first time, this recital was a tribute to beauty in the arts. It conveyed the value and glory of balance, lyricism and el...
Chamber
A MUSICAL ODYSSEY IN RIVITING PRESTON HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 15, 2017
A standing room audience warmly greeted pianist Carolyn Steinbuck Jan. 15 in the season’s second Ft. Bragg Center For the Arts concert in Mendocino’s plebian Preston Hall. Ms. Steinbuck, to be joined in the program’s second half by clarinetist Eric Kritz and cellist Marcia Sloane, programmed Schube...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, January 20, 2017
Emanuel Ax, piano

Emanuel Ax Acknowledges Applause in Weill Hall Jan. 20 (K. Stewart Photo)

COLORFUL SCHUBERT AND CHOPIN WARM WEILL HALL IN AX RECITAL

by Nicki Bell
Friday, January 20, 2017

On a stormy winter evening Jan. 20 a rainbow of colorful Schubert and Chopin music came from the fingers, feet and heart of pianist Emanuel Ax.  Playing at the Weill Hall for the first time, this recital was a tribute to beauty in the arts. It conveyed the value and glory of balance, lyricism and elegance in elegant pianism.

Mr. Ax is a sensitive and brilliant artist that has made a substantial career playing mostly music he loves, the European classical and romantic repertoire. This performance’s first half was concerned with the way Schubert and Chopin explored the Impromptu form. Though the name implies improvisation, each of the eight Impromptus are in a well-organized A-B-A form. Schubert’s four Op. 142 Impromptus were composed in 1827 in Vienna, and taken as a group are almost like the movements of a sonata. 

The opening and lengthy F minor was characterized by great drama and melting delicacy, which gave a flavor of what was to come. Mr. Ax is a master at shaping pianistic tone and shaping time with subtle flexible rhythms. The A-Flat Impromptu, an Austrian dance with disarming simplicity, is a minuet with a flowing trio, and the B Flat is a lovely theme and variations based on incidental music (“Rosamunde”) Schubert wrote for a now forgotten play in 1823. The five variations have great contrast and are eloquent expressions of sorrow and happiness. The lyrical sense of a song is never lost. The concluding F minor Impromptu recalls a gypsy dance, full of virtuosity, flights of scales and joy, and the artist’s Staccato touch was a marvel.

The four exquisite Chopin Impromptus were next.  The Op. 29 (A Flat major) was played with glittering scales and graceful outer sections that contrasted with a middle soulful lyrical section. The F Sharp Major (Op. 36) was for Mr. Ax a gentle nocturne with a dramatic center. The G Flat Major (Op. 51), the least often performed, was given an elegant interpretation that caught the Impromptu’s slightly sad character and had smooth legato thirds and sixths. The Fantasy Impromptu in C Sharp, Op. 66, had a brilliant perpetual motion configuration in the outer sections and a spacious, poignant melody in the middle (similar to Bellini’s bel canto arias). This has become one of Chopin’s most enduringly popular works. 

Schubert’s second Klavierstücke, D. 946 in E Flat, opened the second half. It was a world unto itself, alternating themes of tender sweetness and dark brooding and unsettled mystery. Edited by Brahms, this piece was not published until long after Schubert’s death, and Mr. Ax’s mastery highlighted the syncopations and interesting harmonies.

The program concluded with Chopin B Minor, Sonata Opus 58. Here in the Allegro Maestoso was fire and brimstone transforming into welling lyricism that made one want to hold one’s breath. It was at times poignant and at times ecstatic, ruminating, thoughtful, then explosive. It was a big bold performance, melodically inspired again by bel canto opera signing. The four movements contained powerful contrasts. The Scherzo’s scampering lightness gave way to a dreamy and profound Largo, the heart of the work composed in 1844. The last movement was a sparkling heroic dance building to a magnificent frenzy, a massive amount of sound that had orchestra sonority.

An ecstatic audience of 750 jumped to their feet in applause, and kept bringing Mr. Ax back to the stage for only one encore, the elaborately ornamented Chopin F-Sharp Major Nocturne, Opus 15.

Sonia Tubridy and John Boyajy contributed to this review.