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Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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...
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.