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Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, February 12, 2017
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Alessio Bax, piano

Pianist Alessio Box

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’ monumental B-Flat Second Piano Concerto, Op. 83, with soloist Alessio Bax.

Mr. Bax is a no-frills pianist who sits ramrod straight with his head bent over the keyboard. No skyward gazes or expressive swaying for him: just the keys and the pedals. Given his diminutive frame, he doesn’t seem like he could generate much volume with his restrained approach--but appearances are deceiving. After a lengthy warm-up, he displayed as much thunder and amplitude as the best of them, along with an exceedingly soft touch.

It often takes soloists and orchestras a few measures to warm up to each other before they start playing music instead of notes. In this case, the warm-up extended for two movements. Bax, conductor Bruno Ferrandis and the orchestra didn’t really connect until the gorgeous Andante of the third movement.

Part of the problem was Mr. Bax’s insistent use of the damper pedal, which blends notes together into a smooth veneer instead of bringing out their contrasts. The result was too much legato and not enough staccato or resonance. Bax’s technique was flawless, and he played all the notes, but he seemed distant from the other musicians on the stage.

That all changed in the Andante, one of the most heartfelt in the repertoire. Principal cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns opened with a beautifully sustained solo that traversed the orchestra and ended up with Mr. Bax, who entered with a touch so light and responsive that his fingers barely glanced the keys. The ring finally fit the finger, and the ensuing interplay with the orchestra was as restful and becalmed as a warm embrace. Goose bumps were the order of the day. The unusual fourth movement was just as good, leading to a well-deserved standing ovation.

Berlioz and Prokofiev offered a different take on musical romance, the first too short and the second too long. Before the Brahms concerto, the orchestra played only the introduction to Berlioz’s rarely heard “Romeo and Juliet,” a self-described “dramatic symphony” about the ill-fated couple. In contrast, the second half featured not one but two suites from Prokofiev’s ballet of the same name--14 pieces in all. The second suite is by far the more dramatic and would have made an ideal mate for more selections from the Berlioz.

As it was, the Berlioz score from 1839 simply whetted the appetite for more. The furious string work mimicking the feuding Montagues and Capulets gave way to authoritative playing from the horns and trombones to herald the arrival of the duke. The sound reverberated throughout the hall, followed by a pianissimo exit from the strings. The story was over before it began.

Not so with the Prokofiev suites, which carry Romeo and Juliet all the way from their first meeting to their untimely demise in the tomb. The first suite consists mostly of incidental dances from the ballet, but the second clearly reflects the story. You can almost close your eyes and see the dancers before you.

Of particular note was the Montagues and Capulets scene at the beginning of the second suite, which covers the same dramatic ground as the Berlioz. The orchestra’s sound was impressive at all levels, each section holding its own in a battle of fortissimos. On the flip side, the subsequent “Young Juliet” was hauntingly beautiful, with exceptional playing from the cello and saxophone.

The rest of the suite was equally superb. Mr. Ferrandis kept a steady rhythm throughout and ratcheted up the intensity as the tragic conclusion loomed ever closer. It was a bravura performance, culminating in a searing rendition of the final scene at Romeo and Juliet’s grave. Happy Valentine’s Day.