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Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Friday, November 09, 2018
Peter Serkin, piano

Pianist Peter Serkin

SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 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.