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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
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...
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.