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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
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.