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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
Recital
ECLECTIC PIANISM IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE VIRTUAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
During the pandemic The Santa Rosa Symphony’s virtual concerts received their due in performance praise, but another series, Spring Lake Village, more quietly presented monthly virtual concerts to a select local audience. May 5 saw the latest event, produced by impresario Robert Hayden, and feature...
Symphony
SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor...
Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
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 REVIEW
Oakmont Concert Series / Thursday, May 8, 2008
RAFAL BLECHACZ, CONCERT PIANIST

Rafael Blechacz

CHOPIN WINNER WOWS THEM IN OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, May 8, 2008

The young Polish pianist Rafael Blechacz arrived May 8 at the Oakmont Concerts Series with quite a bit of musical baggage, including winning the 2005 Chopin Competition (the same competition that launched Garrick Ohlsson's career in 1974) and playing on several ubiquitous You Tube snippets. He was touring the Bay Area, and his debut here was eagerly anticipated by a large crowd, including many pianists, in Berger Auditorium.

Blechacz didn't disappoint with his initial offering, Mozart's D-Major Sonata, K. 311. His command of fluid scale passages served the work well, as did his ability to put a little 'air' between the notes, establishing clarity as well as speed. He chose fast tempi and minimal pedal for both the opening allegro con spirito and the concluding rondeau. His hands were admirably balanced, and his dynamic control was exceptional. Clearly he has had excellent teachers. Unfortunately, several notes in the upper tenor and treble of the house piano went quickly out of tune, and continued so throughout the recital.

Debussy's Estampes followed, and was delivered effectively, if at times a little blandly. The three works in this collection are coloristic journeys into rich impressionism, and Blechacz presented them without showing any natural affinity for the Frenchman's often diaphanous and subtle music. Nonetheless, they were played with sonorous attention to detail, and received loud applause.

The first half ended with Szymanowski's early B-Flat Minor Variations, Op. 3, which received a passionate reading. Written just after 1900, this work has a noble theme and 12 disparate variations. Blechacz played them with ardor and masterly comprehension.

Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28, comprised the second half of the concert. Blechacz's pianism here was of considerable authority but finally a little underwhelming. This trait seems odd for a competition winner, as the norm is for barnstorming, virtuosic playing to impress jurors and audiences alike. But Blechacz offered a more restrained approach to this intricate work, never getting a resounding fortissimo from the piano, often cutting off fermatas, never prolonging pedal points, and even underplaying the fleeting 16th and 22nd preludes. It's certainly a valid approach to this magnificent music, but a more heroic and large-scale interpretation seems preferable. Blechacz is young, however, and the Preludes should hold infinite possibilities for his future interest. Profound music demands a lifetime of artistic thought.

Responding to loud acclaim, he offered one encore, a scintillating Chopin waltz. Here in six minutes all the best of Mr. Blechacz's art was present: sovereign control, a chaste tone, perfectly etched scales and sculpted phrases of great beauty.