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A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
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...
RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Peter Serkin

SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 9, 2018

Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike.

It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard approach to Mozart’s B Minor Adagio (K. 540) and the K. 570 B-Flat Major Sonata, and to Bach’s Goldberg Variations that comprised the second half. Current international Mozartians (Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida) play with little damper pedal and brisk tempos, similar to more distant Mozart virtuosi Alfred Brendel, Paul Badura-Skoda, Lili Kraus, Emil Gilels and Walter Gieseking.

Mr. Serkin began by playing the lovely Adagio with a chaste tone and at a pace that at 15 minutes was many minutes slower than prevailing practice. He used large ritards and occasionally the musical line slowed almost to a vanishing point. His unique hand vibrato on key tops (his father Rudolf also did this) elicited comments from some of the 350 in the audience. And, no, the sound doesn’t change by key message, as once the wool piano hammer hits the string, the sound only decays.

Slow playing over 21 minutes in the Sonata highlighted the contrapuntal lines of the work, one of Mozart’s last big piano pieces. The pianist’s self effacing approach and intense focus worked best in the long and complex adagio where his attention to the smallest compositional detail was palpable. Small breaks in the sound (“luftpause” in German) bordered on affectation. The fermata on the penultimate chord must have lasted eight seconds.

In the allegretto finale Mr. Serkin surprised by finding a few inner voices but notes in scale playing were never distinct because of generous pedal application, and with such a pokey tempo (for an allegretto) the interpretation became a little mundane. Perhaps listeners in Weill might have thought Mr. Serkin’s approach to Mozart was limited by pianistic technique, but I think the result is simply how he feels the music, and the light he sheds on the composer’s genius. Certainly there was much to admire in such an interpretative concept, although with ponderous tempos there was danger that the musical line would be breached. It never was.

Bach’s towering Goldberg Variations (a sarabande with 30 variations) followed intermission, and began with a not slow setting out of the chaste theme, albeit with the pianist teasing the ends of phrases. In the nearly 50-minute traversal of the 1742 work Mr. Serkin again eschewed contemporary interpretations, choosing instead slow tempos with room for contrapuntal voicing and sporadic left-hand accents. He wrapped his arms around the Goldberg using warm pianistic colors, constant legato phrasing, softly arpeggiated chords that ended many individual variations, and accentuation of Bach’s piquant dissonances.

A shortcoming in this artistic conception was the potential for boredom, as the slow tempos and instrumental volume throughout the variations were similar, and in fact there wasn’t a strong forte all evening. In sum, Mr. Serkin’s self effacing approach to Bach was always interesting and authoritative, but for me ultimately unconvincing.

Silence in the hall lasted many seconds after the final soft unison g notes, the artist slowly lifting his hands and humbly acknowledging the standing ovation. No encore was offered or needed.

Classical Sonoma reviews rarely mention extra-musical items, such as artist clothing or interminable commentary from the stage, but the tall pianist was uniquely attired in a conventional vested business suit, pocket handkerchief and dark red tie, and sat almost motionless at his instrument.