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Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
RECITAL REVIEW

N. Znaider and R. Kulek Feb. 2 in Weill Hall (JCM Photo)

ZNAIDER-KULEK DUO CHARMS AND CHALLANGES WEILL AUDIENCE FEB. 2

by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 2, 2018

Weill hall has mounted several exceptional piano recitals, with Garrick Ohlsson’s titanic Liszt concert, and of course Lang Lang’s two insouciant but also compelling performances topping the list since 2013.

But arguably the virtuoso violinists have on balance been more impressive, and thoughts go back to memorable nights from Gil Shaham’s six Bach works, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Christian Tetzlaff, Yu-Chien Tsong, David McCarroll, Alexei Kenny, Benjamin Bielman, Caroline Goulding, Vadim Repin, Sarah Chang and Itzhak Perlman, each reviewed at Classical Sonoma. So it was for Nikolaj Znaider’s Feb. 2 recital with the exemplary pianist Robert Kulek.

Mr. Znaider established an immediate rapport with the audience of 250, chatting about the weather, leaning down from the stage to offer a lozenge from his pocket to a coughing fan, and charmingly excusing a woman that fled with hall with a cell phone blaring.

Musical matters began with a beautifully balanced performance of Beethoven’s G Major Sonata, Op. 30, No. 3. It’s easy to overplay this charming work, even with the selected brisk opening tempo, but the duo never fell into this error. As throughout the evening Mr. Znaider’s impressive control of pianissimo blended well with the pianist, with the latter’s piquant sforzandos and dry arpeggios. Here Mr. Znaider did not show a rich tone, and with minimal vibrato it wasn’t needed. The light touch continued through the tempo di menuetto, and in the finale allegro dynamics continued to be narrow, with the effect elegant. Clearly this duo had perfect ensemble.

Prokofiev’s D Major Sonata (Op. 94) followed, beginning with intonation problems, but the violinist quickly found his footing and focused on the opening moderato with a skittish clarity and a blend of the composer’s unique sugary-tart harmonies. The bantamweight ending was lovely. The presto was played presto with quirky high-speed slides and off beat accents, but never went off the tracks. The long diminuendo ending the andantewas perfectly graded and deliciously drawn out.

Al of the composer’s characteristics were on display in the finale – sarcasm, irony, humor. Mr. Kulek’s stressed the dissonances and occasionally covered the violin line. They played a slow ritard before the big lyrical theme that emphasized the underlying sadness of the music. In sum, a vibrant and committed reading of a masterpiece, and for me the concert’s highlight.

Franck’s great A Major Sonata from 1886 should have been the capstone to the concert, and nearly was. The introductory themes were calm and happy and quite slow, with Mr. Znaider using a wider vibrato and was content to let things flow, with differences in repeated phrases. Mr. Kulek’s arpeggiated chords were deftly played. The famous allegro had many felicities with pedal point at the bottom of piano runs and a big ending upward flourish. What was missing were clarity in the right-hand piano runs, some violin notes not attacked cleanly, and most telling a tad lack of intensity in this most vehement movement.

Mr. Znaider introduced the moderato with a story of his five-year old daughter, and played the music (starting in D Minor and ending in F-Sharp Minor) ravishingly, with surprisingly less vibrato and echoes of first-movement themes. Ensemble was tight. The concluding rondo had a judicious tempo that spotlighted the many modulations, and the sprint to the end generated a standing ovation. It was odd that the Franck was played with score, as were the other programmed pieces.

Beginning the second half were four of Shostakovich’s Preludes from his Op. 34, transcribed by Dmitri Tsyganov. Hey were fetchingly performed, especially the 2nd (the popular Prelude, with a dry sound); the 3rd (a march with Mr. Kulek’s accurate skips); and the 4th (contrasting acerbic and frothy interjections by the violin).

Two encores were offered: Brahms Second Hungarian Dance in a rollicking gypsy rhythm virtuoso romp that brought down the house, and a sultry slow Heifetz transcription with Mr. Znaider’s best schmaltzy double stops.