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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
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.