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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...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
RECITAL REVIEW

Jeremy Denk Feb. 13 in Weill Hall (J. McNeill Photo)

LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020

Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends.

But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposites, such as old classic recordings of Edwin Fischer (1936) with a modicum of damper pedaling, and Glenn Gould’s pointillism approach (1965), and currently Andras Schiff’s WTC readings with no pedal use at all. Mr. Denk’s mood before an audience of 800 that was sprinkled with local pianists was a mixture of modesty and introspection that gave the music the needed cohesion in a long recital. You had the feeling that this was the artist’s stamp of secure approval of a masterpiece.

In remarks from the stage the pianist mentioned that the music was yet to be firm in his memory, and thus there was a page turner. But the turner didn’t do much to earn his keep, as Mr. Denk did most of his own turning and often didn’t look at the score. He spoke about the spirituality of the music composed in 1722, and the difference from the Goldberg Variations that he recently played in a studio recording that for me had speedy tempos and sonic clarity.

The playing throughout the 111 minutes and one long intermission was not to the taste of many Bach keyboard devotees. It’s well known that in Weill legato playing can generate muddy sound, especially in Baroque music and even in composers such as Schumann, and Mr. Denk all evening used the damper pedal lavishly. The Hall’s instrument, perfectly in tune, was warmly voiced, and this added to a lush sound foreign to much Bach. Perhaps an old Baldwin piano, or a new Bösendorfer, would have sounded better for Bach’s WTC under Mr. Denk’s virtuosic fingers and feet?

That said, there was much felicitous playing. He almost always arpeggiated final chords in the slower fugues, played lovely graded crescendos, emphasized appoggiaturas and demonstrated keen dynamic control in soft playing for long periods. At the end of many phrases ritards were deftly done, and throughout there were just a few brief hesitations in the music’s flow, presumably due to the announced “yet to be fully baked” memorization. His left hand jumps off of accented notes were not for visual emphasis, but made sonic sense in mostly individual Preludes, but also in the dancing 19th Fugue in A. The B Flat Prelude and Fugue (No. 21) was played as a brilliant Toccata that had wonderful rhythmic vitality. Many fermatas were held for long seconds, enhancing the beauty.

At the beginning of the second half Mr. Denk announced that he would follow the final spiritual B Minor Prelude and Fugue, which has the longest fugue in the set, with a repetition of Book I’s opening Prelude in C Major. Oddly the playing of the C Major was slightly faster than the opening version, but it ended with a quiet arpeggiated chord that held the audience in rapt reverence. As the music finally crept into silence, a roar of audience approval erupted with a standing ovation.

Sonoma State Music Dept. Professor Alexander Kahn’s pre-recital lecture on Bach and the WTC was erudite, and surely helped many in the audience to appreciate the odyssey of hearing Mr. Denk in this magisterial music.