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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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Ken Iisaka / Sunday, January 25, 2009
Ken Iisaka, Pianist

PIANISTIC LARGESSE IN MARIN

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Marin pianist Ken Iisaka has been getting around lately, playing frequent concerts, competing in high-level competitions, writing about music and investigating rare repertoire that incites new interest. But he is seldom heard in a formal winter recital setting, with a good piano, and with somewhat standard compositions. The oversight was remedied January 25 when he presented four big works at San Rafael’s JB Piano Emporium under the auspices of the Concerts Grand piano series.

The afternoon’s music began with Haydn, specifically the effervescent Sonata No. 60 (Hob. XVI/50) that Lang Lang has frequently performed. Iisaka’s reading had all the humor and digital dexterity of Lang, along with exceptionally effective blurred pedal effects in the opening Allegro and deftly handled modulations in the Finale.

Brahms’ big Handel Variations, Op. 24, closed the first half. This monumental work from 1862 received an ardent reading, somewhat conventional compared to the text changes made in the classic Petri and Solomon recordings, but altogether achieving a powerful drama. The playing was not note perfect, but Iisaka generated momentum and majesty at the expense of precision. Tempos were brisk and allowed colorful inner details to shine. Iisaka had his arms solidly around the work.

Following an intermission spiced with gratis champagne and lots of audience piano playing on the store’s instruments (thankfully not the Grotrian 275 on the stage), Iisaka presented one of his signature pieces, the Berg Sonata, Op. 1. This sonata is a highly chromatic and thick-textured work, with seemingly everything growing from the first measures. Iisaka played it with fastidious attention to inner lines and polyphonic detail. Early Berg looks back toward the Romantic era, and Iisaka deftly spotlighted the connections.

Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) remains one of the Rodney Dangerfields of 20th century piano composers – never getting much public respect and eternally in the shadow of Rachmaninoff. His F-Sharp “Sonata Ballada,” Op. 27, concluded the program, and Iisaka played the cyclic forms so favored by Medtner with sharp relief. Iisaka clearly loves this music, and he lavished great care with the ephemeral themes and distinct contrasts. The constant breaks between the lyricism and passionate parts were effectively juxtaposed.

Iisaka tends to be generous with his pianistic largesse, and he offered two big sets of variations as encores. First came Kapustin’s Op.80 Theme and Variations, a tour-de-force fusion of jazz rhythms and the descending-note motif from Stravinsky’s “Sacre du Printemps.” This reviewer was not alone in being unable to find the theme in the cascade of notes, and the pianist kindly showed the errors of our ways by demonstrating the motif prior to introducing yet another long and demanding encore, Mozart’s 12 variations on “Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman.” Here Iisaka reveled in the complexity of the variation forms, displaying a light touch and droll phrasing. An éclair to end a recital of provocative music.

The reviewer is the Producer of the Concerts Grand series