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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Elena Kuschnerova / Sunday, March 01, 2009
Elena Kuschnerova, Pianist

Elena Kuschnerova at the Newman Auditorium Piano

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 01, 2009

People attending pianist Elena Kuschnerova’s March 1 Newman Auditorium concert came with anticipation of a challenging afternoon, as the Russian’s presence on YouTube and a comprehensive website disclosed a wide range of repertoire and powerful command of the instrument. I don’t believe anyone was disappointed.

Part of the Concerts Grand series, the recital’s first section was all German, appropriate as Kuschnerova lives in Baden Baden, and it’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn. The Variations Serieuses, Op. 54, and three of the Songs Without Words were performed with richly contrasting textures and a long lyrical line. The songs (May Breezes, Lost Illusions, and Spinning Song) received warm readings with a delicate touch and sprightly agility. The variations were played with consummate pianistic skill, notably the fugal (No. 10) and the following Schumannesque (No. 11). Everything was in place with technical dash, the descending left-hand figurations in the 15th variation resounding deep into the bass. Mendelssohn never wrote a better work for piano, and Kuschnerova gave a grand reading.

Bach’s Second French Suite began the program. Kuschnerova played it in a carefully measured way, the architectural backbone surrounded by sparkles of notes, all held together by clear delineation of each of the voices. The fast Corrente was deftly played and the two-voice Gigue’s dotted notes received an attentive performance in decorous Baroque style.

Kuschnerova chose only Russian composers for the second half, running a chronological gamut from the first great one (Glinka) to the controversial Alexander Lokshin (1920-1987). Glinka’s lovely short Nocturne La Separation mirrors Field’s works of the same title, less complex and deep than Chopin’s oeuvre, but no less lyrical. Tchaikovsky’s Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 19, followed, and its 16-measure theme was nobly stated. The quirky third variation was brilliantly played, the alla mazurka ninth danced provocatively, and the conclusions of the fleet coda brought down the house.

The pianist preceded Alexander Lokshin’s In The Spring and Prelude and Theme with Variations with an extended summary from the stage of Lokshin’s tragic life under Soviet rule. Kuschnerova knew the composer, and her sympathy with his plight was palpable. In the Spring, a poetic 45-bar bagatelle, was lovely, and the variations were sharply dissonant and assured. A good number of the 85 in the audience stood to applaud, a novel demonstration for an unknown composer’s work, and certainly a tribute to Kuschnerova’s passionate advocacy. Lokshin’s music has had few champions, the conductor Rudolph Barshai now being joined by Kuschnerova in heralding a Soviet-era master.

Closing a memorable concert was the tumult of Stravinsky’s Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka, virtuoso paraphrases of three scenes from the famous ballet of 1920. This polytonal transcription ranks with a handful of piano works (e. g., Liszt’s Tannhauser Overture, Balakirev’s Islamey, and Ives’ Concord Sonata) as the most difficult to play on the modern piano. Kuschnerova, who was not well during the entire recital, rose to the pyrotechnical demands of the Danse Russe and La Semaine Grasse magnificently. She seemed to tire towards the end, losing small details in the volleys of forte octaves, march-like chords and incessant bravura.

Three encores were offered, the best being another Mendelssohn song (Passion) and Siloti’s transcription of the Bach Prelude in B Minor. The latter was a richly colored example of captivating legato playing.

Elena Kuschnerova communicated in a personal way with her Newman audience, serving the composers she chose to perform and exemplifying the majesty of the great Russian romantic piano tradition.

Marin pianist Ken Iisaka contributed to this review.