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Chamber
EXTRAVAGANT FUSION OF STYLES AT CHRIS BOTTI BAND WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Jerry Dibble
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Trumpeter Chris Botti still performs in jazz venues including SF Jazz and The Blue Note, but now appears mostly in cavernous halls or on outdoor stages like the Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. He brought his unique road show to the packed Weill Hall August 12 in a concert of effusive e...
Chamber
SCHUBERT "MIT SCHLAG" AT VOM FESTIVAL MORNING CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
The spirit of 19th century Vienna was present July 29 on the final day of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival in the second half of July glittered with innovative programming and the new, old sound of original instruments played by musicians who love music with historic instruments. ...
Chamber
PASSIONATE BRAHMS-SCHOENBERG MUSIC CLOSES VOM FESTIVAL SUMMER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
An extraordinary program of chamber music by Brahms and Schoenberg attracted a capacity crowd to the Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s final concert July 29th in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. It opened with a richly expressive reading by Festival Laureate violinist Rachell Wong and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur...
Chamber
PRAGUE AND VIENNA PALACE GEMS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 28, 2018
The remarkable Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented a concert called “Kinsky Palace” July 28 on their final Festival weekend in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. Two well-known treasures and one lesser gem were programmed. Starting the afternoon offerings were violinist Monica Huggett and Fest...
Chamber
INNOVATIVE CHAMBER WORKS IN HANNA CENTER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival presented a July 22 concert featuring three giants: Haydn, Schubert and Schumann, composers who altered music of their time with creative innovations and artistic vision. In the fourth season the Festival’s theme this year is “Vienna in Transition”, and VOM Fes...
Chamber
VIENNA INSPIRATION FOR VOM FESTIVAL PROGRAM AT HANNA CENTER
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, July 21, 2018
A music-loving audience filled Sonoma’s Hanna Center Auditorium July 21 to begin a record weekend of three concerts, produced by the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival’s theme this summer is “Venice in Transition – From the Enlightenment to the Dawn of Modernism” Prior to Saturday’s m...
Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
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.