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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...
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...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
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...
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.