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Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
Opera
DONIZETTI'S DON PASQUALE HAS LYRICAL CHARM IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
by Elly Lichenstein
Friday, July 14, 2017
Mendocino Music Festival's production of Donizetti's beloved opera buffa Don Pasquale - a one-night affair July 15 that was presented in an enormous tent on a greensward overlooking the Pacific Ocean - delighted an audience of more than 600 while doing some real justice to this frothy gem of commedi...
Recital
NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the ...
Recital
STYLUS AND PLAYING FANTASTICUS IN YOUNG'S ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Organist Robert Young gave a wonderful tour through the stylus fantasticus (fantastic style) organ literature June 25 playing a recital on the Casavant organ at Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Young recently became the organist at the Church and previously served for 20 years as Music D...
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.