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Chamber
BEETHOVEN FEATURED IN SF TRIO'S OCCIDENTAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Conventional repertoire in uncommonly good performances highlighted the San Francisco Piano Trio’s Jan. 19 concert in the Occidental Center for the Arts. Haydn’s No. 44 Trio (Hob. XV:28) came from late in his long career, when he was in and out of London, and received a sparkling reading that featu...
SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close bu...
Choral and Vocal
ORPHEUS OF AMSTERDAM'S MUSIC IN SCHROEDER ORGAN CHORAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, January 10, 2020
“All over the map.” Sonoma Bach, directed by Bob Worth, has taken its audiences this season on journeys through many centuries and many lands. The programming is fresh and intriguing and the performers varied and creators of beauty and interest. The January 10 program was centered on organ works by...
Choral and Vocal
OLD NORTH GERMAN CAROLS IN SONOMA BACH'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, December 15, 2019
“Cast off all sorrows…also dance in heavenly fashion.” A volume called Piae Cantiones was printed in 1582 in North Germany, lively songs going back to the 14th century, and this treasure trove provided material for numerous composers to arrange Christmas carols over following generations, from simp...
Symphony
EVERLASTING LIGHT AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 09, 2019
The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night. The soloists were good, but the choir was superb. Located wi...
Symphony
UNFINISHED AND FINNISH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 08, 2019
Having a new resident conductor on the podium for the Ukiah Symphony was an attractive invitation for a long-delayed visit to Mendocino College’s Center Theater Dec. 8. The insouciant Les Pfutzenreuter recently retired after decades of conducting the ensemble, replaced by Phillip Lenberg who also j...
Choral and Vocal
PRAERTORIUS IN RENAISSANCE GLORY FROM SONOMA BACH
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Sonoma Bach Choir, in collaboration with Barefoot All-Stars Viol Consort and The Whole Noyse Brass Ensemble, presented “Sing Glorious Praetorius!” November 16 to an almost full Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. The Soloists were soprano Dianna Morgan, Christopher Fritzsche, (countertenor), m...
Symphony
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL EXCITEMENT IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Beginning with a scintillating reading of Rossini’s Overture to the Opera “Semiramide,” the Sonoma County Philharmonic performed a splendid program Nov. 16 in the Jackson Theater, and featured two additional works, one showcasing the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Young Artist Award. It...
Chamber
SPIRITUAL LATE BEETHOVEN QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, called “unparalleled in its inexhaustibility” by critic Thomas May, is a daunting challenge. Orchestral in concept, filled with wit and charm, melancholy and fury, it almost overwhelms listeners. Playing the frenetic Scherzo, a viol...
Symphony
MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 04, 2019
It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here. The evening began with...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Thursday, July 13, 2017
John Novacek, piano

Pianist John Novacek After Playing Intoxication Rag July 13

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 second half.

After intermission the Los Angeles-based artist began by choosing two of Shostakovich’s great Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues, the inaugural one from the set of 24 (in C Major) and the monumental D-Flat Major. The Prelude had a beautiful shimmer with bell tones, and heavy pedaling lent an aura of mystery to the drawn-out fugue. In the D Flat the pianist underscored the works sarcasm, and played the complicated fugue in just the right tempo. Mr. Novacek is not a colorist but in the demanding fugue nailed the work’s momentum and excitement.

Excitement continued with Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas, an early Op. 2 work that has been popular since its 1937 composition. The Danzas del Viejo boyero was marked by agile playing of thirds, with the right hand only on the white keys, and the left hand on the black. and the haunting Danza de la moza donosa had an attractive “swing.” In the toccata-like finale (Danza del gaucho matero) the rhythmic accents are forceful, but the sound was too loud and clarity was lost in the driving ending.

Regarding the overall Preston Hall sound, this year the house piano was moved 180 degrees to the south wall, and somehow this seemingly unimportant instrument placement sporadically amplified Mr. Novacek’s fortissimo chords and upset contrapuntal balances and thematic clarity. But the Ginastera can take a lot of noisy playing, and the audience of 125 responded to the ending’s double glissando with a roar of approval.

Three of the artist’s own rags closed the program – Schenectady, 4th Street and Intoxication. Easy virtuosity and many false cadences were heard in the first, and the artist mentioned that he liked the rhythmic sound of the title. Fourth Street featured small trills and subtle accents that were languorous and charming with slow offbeat accents and subtle dissonances. This street felt hot and humid. He played it wonderfully.

The final work was intoxicating indeed, a roller coaster ride of pulsating sound and whole sections of ragtime sound played with the damper pedal down for bars at a time. Of course such a barnburner piece brought down the house. Surprisingly the energetic ovation did not produce an encore.

Nothing in the playing of the first half’s two works, Beethoven’s Op. 10, No. 2 Sonata, and Schumann’s masterful Op. 9 Carnaval, was in any way ordinary. But for me the sum of all the parts didn’t quite equal a consummate whole. The opening allegro of the F Major (1796) was played aggressively with a careful control of staccato chords and sharply etched phrases. Mr. Novacek caught the humor in the first and especially the last movement, the latter mirroring several of Haydn’s Sonatas. Articulation was crisp and the presto movement's tempo had firm control.

In speaking to the audience prior to the Schumann the pianist related the 1835 work’s creation, and then said he would verbally describe each of the 21 sections as the piece unfolded. Presumably most of the Preston audience found the process helpful, but some quietly decried the loss of small inter-piece connections and musical flow. I found the decision it a misstep, but a small one. More important was Mr. Novacek’s conception of this many-faceted composition, and his is a contemporary conception that spotlighted section architecture and histrionics rather than tone color, rhythmic flexibility and inner voices.

Some of the afternoon’s best playing came in the Papillon, Reconnaissance (fast repetitions) and Paganini sections. Paganini was played with a seco touch, and at a slower-than-usual tempo, and was persuasive. He omitted the mysterious Sphinx section, in contrast to the iconic Rachmaninoff and Cortot recordings. Aveu was played with a singing touch with time for a one patient big inner left-hand voice and layered pedaling at the pianissimo accelerando.

As the work drew down to the big descending chords preceeding the March Against the Philistines, Mr. Novacek produced the one convincing romantic retard in the performance, a delight, but then followed with fast and blurred playing in the March that became a tsunami of notes. Well, Rachmaninoff did the same thing, and generated the same result that presumably the artist wanted. It was propulsive but in the end did not sew up a lyrical, balanced and convincing Carnaval.