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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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Cal Performances / Thursday, March 19, 2009
Murray Perahia

TRANSCENDENT ARTISTRY FROM MURRAY PERAHIA

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, March 19, 2009


In his March 19 recital at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, pianist Murray Perahia played the three Bs — Bach, Beethoven and Brahms — with a Schubert encore at the end supplying the plural S. His program ranged from the high Baroque (Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor) to the late Classical (Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Sonata, Op. 28) to the full-blown Romantic (Brahms’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel,” a work that embodies the radical transformation of musical style from the 18th to 19th centuries).

For listeners craving an evening of traditional classical music, this recital had it all: masterpieces played by one of the world’s greatest pianists in a convivial setting. The house was full to overflowing.

Perahia received a hero’s welcome as he strode on stage, fully decked in tails. He settled into the piano bench, draped the tails behind him, and set right to work on the opening Toccata of the Bach, the first of seven movements. At first, his playing was restrained, almost quiescent, as he gathered the various musical threads together before the entrance of the theme. His face was etched in a frown, and he kept a close eye on his hands.

Little by little, he began to increase the volume and to sway, giving the movement a narrative arch. That narrative continued in the subsequent Allemande, which was marked by clarity of tone and delicacy of attack. Then came the highly rhythmic Courante. Here the syncopations were perfect, the rapid right-hand runs flawless, the left-hand arpeggios a movement in themselves. The unflagging beat continued through the remaining movements, with Perahia repeatedly using his upper body to punctuate the rhythm.

Perahia’s finger work was dazzling throughout, but his sense of rhythm and forward motion are what made the performance so memorable. By the concluding Gigue, he was positively rollicking, his jowls shaking as he emphatically repeated the insistent two-note figure that brings the Partita to a close. During the thunderous applause, the man to my left leaned over and said, out of the blue, “You can hear every single note when he plays — he doesn’t gloss over anything.”

Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Sonata, with its traditional four-movement form, is generally considered the last work of his early, Classical period. That form is evident from the outset, with the twin themes of the opening movement, followed in turn by their development and recapitulation. Classic form makes for a classic story, and Perahia narrated this one superbly. Beginning with the repeated notes in the bass, he leaned into the keyboard and built strong dramatic tension, unfolding the opening theme at a stately pace. When he arrived at the second, the transition from major to minor seemed almost like an epiphany, as if Perahia were inhabiting Beethoven’s own thoughts.

The story got even better from there. In the Andante second movement, Perahia often lifted up his left hand, turned it over as if to examine his palm, and then expertly reset it on the keyboard, emphasizing the crucial bass line. Before playing the many descending figures with his right, he waited until the last possible nanosecond, ratcheting up the tension. That playfulness persisted in the Scherzo, where he seemed to barely touch the keys. In the final Rondo, he offered his loudest playing yet, giving full contrast to the sforzandos and pianissimos and creating enormous excitement with the sheer speed of his attack. He got up very slowly when he was done.

The exhausted audience got some relief during intermission, but Perahia had only begun. Brahms’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel” does indeed have variations, but they’re really just a prelude to the main event: the thunderous Fugue at the end, which bears almost no stylistic resemblance to the original theme.

The piece begins innocently enough, with Handel’s somewhat tepid melody peeking out beneath a filigree of ornamentation. Perahia made the Steinway concert grand sound almost like a harpsichord as he deftly unveiled the material at hand. After an opening variation in the baroque style, the real Brahms began creeping in. By about the fourth variation (there are 25), the stentorian bass announced an entirely new musical language, far removed from Handel.

Perahia navigated the rapidly changing moods of the variations with ease. Many are quite short, and he proved equally adept at being assertive, limpid, agitated, and reflexive. All those moods and more were on display in the final fugue, where the music really takes off. Here he managed to make every entry of the four-note subject sound new and different. He rocked back and forth in his bench as if driving a team of horses, spurring each one to the max.

The standing ovation was instantaneous and unanimous. Perahia looked drained, but after four curtain calls, he sat down and played Schubert’s B-flat Impromptu as if he had not a care in the world. His sound was serene, his fingering impeccable, his artistry transcendent.