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Chamber
THREE SONG CYCLES HIGHLIGHT VIBRANT SLV RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks-Gailey
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
An ambitious recital of vocal and piano music was presented May 8 at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The duo engaged the enthusiastic audience with scholarly friendliness and artistry in performances of Beethoven's short cycle of six song...
Symphony
ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 05, 2019
An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony c...
Symphony
MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON CLOSES WITH AUTUMNAL ELGAR AND THEATRICAL BEETHOVEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Mozart’s enchanting Overture to his opera The Magic Flute, a miniature tapestry of gems from the 1791 work, opened the Marin Symphony’s final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Under conductor Alasdair Neale, the playing of the sprightly seven-minute piece by a reduced-size classical ensemble sparkled...
Recital
SHAHAM-EGUCHI DUO'S EXCITING MUSICAL GENEROSITY IN WEILL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, April 26, 2019
Violinist Gil Shaham may be the most modest virtuoso on the concert stage today, and it is the great music he most wishes to put forward, never himself. Generosity, a quality he is known for, was abundantly clear in Weill Hall April 26 when he performed, with pianist Akira Eguchi, a generous program...
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 REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, May 05, 2019
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Alexander Toradze, piano

Pianist Alexander Toradze

ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 05, 2019

An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert, led by conductor emeritus Bruno Ferrandis.

The movement in question was the central Andante of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a crystal-clear mountain lake perched between two torrential Allegros. The elfish Mr. Toradze, a last-minute substitute for an ailing Olga Kern, established a commanding presence in the opening bars of the first movement and never let go. Planted firmly on the bench and staring down at the keys, he projected well and generated lots of volume, aided by Ferrandis’s strong command of orchestral dynamics. Mr. Toradze’s runs up and down the keyboard were energetic and flawless, and he was wonderfully responsive to his fellow players.

Shostakovich wrote the concerto for his pianist son, and the first movement is a playful romp designed to show off the piano’s brilliance amid some inventive orchestration. The movement ended with wild applause followed by laughter as Toradze pretended to shake out his hands after their strenuous exertions. The laughter turned to pin-drop silence moments later as the orchestra established a lush background, followed by a series of magically suspended notes from the keyboard, a la Rachmaninoff. Mr. Toradze played his haunting melodies at the edge of audibility, floating above his accompaniment like a beneficent cloud. The end, when it came, was all too soon.

Mr. Toradze then segued effortlessly into the concerto’s sprightly finale. He replaced his languid sustains with a virtual perpetual motion machine, racing around the keyboard faster and faster until he achieved warp speed, bringing the orchestra along with him. A thrilling timpani flourish brought the proceedings to an end.

The raucous audience insisted on an encore, so Mr. Toradze asked which movement they would like to hear again. The consensus was for the second movement, even though some audience members lobbied for a complete repeat. The second time through was even better than the first. All you had to do was close your eyes and float away.

Before the Toradze fireworks, the Symphony set the mood for an afternoon of Russian music with a beguiling performance of Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique, an early work with several hints of the genius to come. One hint is the characteristic Stravinsky sound of sharply etched winds against a shimmering wave of strings. Others include persistent syncopation and unusual orchestration.

Despite these hints of greatness, the Scherzo lacks an overarching narrative to tie the diverse musical strands together. The orchestra played well, but the piece sounded episodic and at times meandering.

The Tchaikovsky symphony (No. 5) that ended the program was another story altogether. The clarinet duet that opened the first movement, followed by magisterial lines from the strings, announced the beginning of a long journey, one marked by hardship and emotional upheaval. Ferrandis was full of nervous energy as he exhorted the strings to apply more vibrato and the orchestra to intone more forcefully. The result was deeply expressive playing, as the band leaned into syncopations, crescendos and a long series of cadences. The repeated ascents and descents seemed to mirror Tchaikovsky’s fervid mental state, where moments of elation lead inexorably to precipitous declines.

The French horn solo at the beginning of the slow second movement was beautifully played by Caitlyn Smith Franklin. Her mellow, fluid and expressive sound led to an equally rich melody in the cellos. The drama continued as Mr. Ferrandis encouraged rhythmic flexibility in interpreting Tchaikovsky’s dramatic score. The strings spoke as one, but the mid-movement brass fanfare served as the emotional peak.

The famous waltz in the third movement carried listeners into more familiar Tchaikovsky territory, with one inventive dance after another marked by rapid handoffs between the orchestral sections. The strings kept up a furious pace, and the long bassoon solo by Carla Wilson helped tie the disparate elements together.

The tragic theme of the final movement is stated at the outset, and the rest of the piece attempts to turn that tragedy into triumph. The pace soon quickened, and the players once again launched into a series of cadences, each one marked by meteoric rises and rapid falls. Through it all, the orchestra played impeccably, transporting the listener on a rolling wave of sound. A frenzied ending, marked by blaring brass and thunderous timpani, led to a final statement that felt at once heroic and ambiguous.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]