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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
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....
RECITAL REVIEW

Gustavo Romero at the Newman Hall Piano Feb. 19

ROMERO CELEBRATES CHOPIN IN SANTA ROSA CONCERTS

by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 19, 2010

Recitals entirely devoted to the works of Chopin are not rare, and the 200th anniversary of the great Pole’s birth has already spawned world-wide concerts of his music and for memorializing his artistry. What was basically new in pianist Gustavo Romero’s Oakmont (Feb. 18) and SRJC (Feb. 19) recitals was how he structured the program. The four tumultuous Ballades (Ops. 23, 39, 47 and 52) didn’t constitute the second half, and the Ballades were not played in the usual order. Though the two recitals had different instruments, room acoustics and audience ambiance, the pianist’s approach to the music and printed program were the same, and thus a composite review of the performances.

A singular pianist, Mr. Romero took a small-scaled approach to much of the music, eschewing hall-filling volume in favor of introspection, careful phrasing and fastidiously balanced chords. He seems to shy away from overstatement, even in the demanding passages of the G Minor and F Minor Ballades, leading the listener to appreciate previously overlooked parts of this wonderfully familiar and descriptive music. Beginning with the somber Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 45, Mr. Romero played with subtle tempos changes and just the right amount of rumination. The following B Major Nocturne, Op. 62, No. 1, was also performed in moderate tempo with expressive long trills and a deft distinction between the upper and lower voices.

Less intimate and more expansive than the Nocturnes, the F-Sharp Barcarolle, Op. 60, found Mr. Romero stressing the Italianate character of the melody and the arabesque-like contours. In the Op. 44 Polonaise, also in F Sharp, the pianist opted for clarity over momentum but captured the rhythmic drive of the work. The last chord was broken, to fine effect. Concluding the first half was the popular second Scherzo in B Flat, Op. 31. The many quiet sections and diminuendos were effective, as was the accelerando at the end. Less efficacious were the extended delays between sections and when Mr. Romero resorted to pounding before the coda, resulting in a shrill sound. In Berger Auditorium’s wide space the volume was pleasant, but in Newman it was harsh and overly loud.

Changing the usual order of the Ballades, by opus number, made sense in Mr. Romero’s capable hands. The cheery A-Flat Major had the requisite careful pedaling and phrasing in the second subject in F. In the second Ballade the opening folk-like material was handled adroitly but was in small profile, even during the outbursts of sound (presto con fuoco) at bars 47 and 169. The big chord at measure 197, lapsing immediately to unisons in piano, was held with a long pedal, producing a shimmering effect.

The final two Ballades, in F Minor and G Minor, are great dramas that unfold through Chopin’s genius, and Mr. Romero applied effective rubato throughout. In Op. 52, the left-hand octaves were robustly played, and the fortissimo chord at 202, with the bottom octave in C, was cut off without pedal, producing some anxious clapping from a few in the Newman Auditorium audience. The tumultuous coda went well. The G Minor Ballade was played with less pedal, everything scrupulously planned but without many of the romantic-era flourishes that makes a much-admired work seem fresh. The right-hand octaves in bars 110 to 111 were performed fast, without vocal phrasing so needed in Chopin.

The single encore, Turkish composer Fazil Say’s “Black Earth," was a sensation. The 1997 composition has slowly arpeggiated chords, mostly in the left hand, combining with intriguing sounds from piano strings muted by the artist’s left (and occasionally) right hand. The result, in just over seven minutes, was a haunting tour de force of sonority from Mr. Romero. The audience and the reviewer were captivated.