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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...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, March 19, 2017
Haochen Zhang, piano

Pianist Hauchen Zhang

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 performer in his March 19 recital in Schroeder Hall.

The pianist began a demanding concert with two big Schumann works of opposite emotional content. The Op. 15 Kinderszenen came first and received a performance that stuck closely to the programmatic connotations of the 14 individual pieces. Longer than expected ritards and taking all of the repeats underscored sober and carefully crafted playing, and sometime Mr. Zhang paused between sections, and sometime with pedal he connected them. The slow ending of Träumerei was enchanting.

It was the best local performance of Kinderszenen since Valentina Lisitsa’s traversal seven years ago in the Concerts Grand series.

The recital’s finest playing came with the Symphonic Etudes, Op.13, written in 1834 and played here without the whole additional set of five posthumous variations. Mr. Zhang did surprisingly insert the C-Sharp Minor Variation (of the five) between Etudes 2 and 3, and etherial D-Flat Major later, and and played both beautifully. He commanded in the Schumann a formidable octave and staccato chord technique, and overlapped phrases with the damper pedal, occasionally holding back at the end of slow phrases.

In the penultimate variation (andante espressivo) he used left hand pedal point notes and produced a lovely vocal quality (tenor?) singing line, and in the lengthy final D Flat variation he played the two repeats. Here he pushed the tempo and piano volume to the instrument’s limits, but clearly Mr. Zhang sees the Etudes as a brawny work. The applause from the 110 in Schroeder was fulsome.

In the second half the artist sharply changed the program, dropping the ultra Romantic Liszt Harmonies du Soir and the Bartok Sonata, and instead of a Janacek work he began with two of Liszt’s Etudes Transcendals – Feux Follet (Will of the Wisp) and Chasse Neige (Snow Storm). Both received virtuoso performances, and Mr. Zhang seemed happiest with music that required lots of exceptional finger technique. Fast cross-hand double note playing characterized the first, and in the second he built a ferocious storm of volume with left-hand tremolos and impressive endurance.

Relief from the storms came with Janacek’s In the Mists, a four-movement 1912 work where Mr. Zhang produced veiled floating chords and subtle control of pianissimo. In the andantino the playing of the simple repeated theme was elegant. The music was enveloping melancholy.

Ginastera’s iconic First Sonata closed the program, a work from 1952 that expands on the insistent design of the Danzas Argentinas composed 15 years earlier. Mr. Zhang owns the piece, and gave it his expected roaring motor excitement. He brought out the jazz riffs and his double octaves spread way apart were thunderous and accurate, or at least they probably were in the sonic din of the final percussive toccata. Through all this ostinato playing the rhapsodic adagio was almost bucolic. I have not heard louder piano playing in Schroeder than the pianist produced in the Ginastera.

A standing ovation recalled the artist, and the solo encore was the Arkady Volodos transcription of Mozart’s K. 331 Rondo (“Alla Turca”). The transcription is a virtuoso stunt, and recalled Lang Lang’s encore carving of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” at the Weill Hall inaugural concert. At that recital the Classical Sonoma reviewer wrote of the encore being “deliciously tasteless.” Here the bombast wasn’t tasteful at all.

Lee Ormasa and Gerald Blodgett contributed to this review.