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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...
RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson In Napa Recital Dec. 16

OHLSSON TRIUMPHANT IN NAPA BEETHOVEN BIRTHDAY SONATA RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Virtuoso pianist Garrick Ohlsson is clearly at the top of his game, the latest evidence being a blockbuster Beethoven Sonata recital Dec. 16 in Napa’s United Methodist Church.

Celebrating the Bonn’s master’s 240th birthday and coming off a project recording all 32 Sonatas, Mr. Ohlsson met a jammed Chamber Music in Napa Valley audience with a balanced program featuring the familiar, not so familiar and rarely played. Many in the audience of 300 have heard the artist numerous times in the series, produced by wine moguls John and Maggie Kongsgaard, and greeted his entrance to the acoustically dead hall for the D Minor Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2 (Tempest), with loud applause.

The opening Allegro is storm and stress, and Mr. Ohlsson quickly disclosed a recital-long interest in instrumental color and contrast. He used the shift pedal a lot, getting hazy tints in the two recitatives and handling the tricky two-note slurs with ease. There was strong thematic projection in the Adagio and long sustained tones in the treble, carefully pedaled. In the agitated finale, the artist underscored its softly wistful nature, and the playing of the persistent four-note motive was never mechanical. The play of the registers with no ritards to the final pianissimo left-hand was masterful.

Before intermission the seldom programmed E Flat Sonata, Op., 27, No. 1, was for me the highlight of the recital. It’s not popular with audiences, and the four-movement work in unsympathetic hands can seem dense. Here the pianist set out the simple opening with firm rhythmic control, the last two chords haunting and leading subtly attaca subito to the Adagio. The pianist several times gave a little extra duration to the fermatas, adding to the expectation of the concluding rondo, interrupted near the end to reintroduce the melody of the slow introduction. Mr. Ohlsson made a strong case for the lyric building blocks of the piece, some parts sounding fugal but always in judicious balance. Obviously he has given this work countless hours of study in the studio.

From 1809, the F Sharp Sonata (Op. 78) opened the second half with unaffected directness, Mr. Ohlsson’s exact chordal weighting a delight to hear. His technique cannot abide phrases without sonorous chords and precisely equal inflection in both hands. The usual graceful caprice of Allegro Vivace was played here almost raucously, the left hand crossing to trenchant treble accents.

In recent years an approach to the concluding F Minor Sonata, Op. 57 (Appassionata) has arisen that stresses the great work’s architectural design and interlocking segments over the conventional dramatic qualities. Readings by Till Fellner and Andras Schiff come to mind. Earlier this season Sandro Russo on the Concerts Grand series would have none of this, grabbing for the emotional nucleus, and Mr. Ohlsson’s performance followed suit, taking no prisoners. The quiet opening turned volcanic with the evening’s first really big forte sound, the potent F Minor key resounding to the last row in the lovely church. There were a few surprising inner voices in the first movement, surprising in that the Appassionata isn’t a piece for wayward experiments in interpretative individuality. It’s a work that the artist exploited with a lovely detaché touch and finger staccato in the short variation movement, Beethoven’s chaste melody uppermost. Mr. Ohlsson always emphasizes the essentials in his conceptions, leaving the inessentials to subsidiary lines and occasional appearances.

A ferocious arpeggiated chord, carried with the pedal from the previous measure, announced the 13 titanic chords that launched the tremendous sweep of the Allegro ma non troppo. There was never any pounding, regardless of the tsunami of sound the pianist wrung from the instrument. But the contrasts in low-volume playing were also never absent, the four right-hand chords over the midpoint pedal point c a telling break to the music’s grandeur. The last section in Presto was compelling, the artist never losing control and never giving a thought to underplaying the excitement.

Of course a thunderous standing ovation followed, and there was palpable curiosity on what encore(s) might be offered. A late Beethoven Bagatelle? The frisky “Rage Over A Lost Penny”? Mr. Ohlsson’s patrician side then emerged when he played a nuanced middle movement (Andante cantabile) from the Pathétique Sonata in C Minor. Here his rock-solid rhythmic sense never left him, nor in the following “Revolutionary” Study of Chopin, Op. 10, No. 12.

In this year of Chopin’s 200th birth, Garrick Ohlsson has been playing mostly the Pole’s immortal music, but if one asked the Napa audience Thursday night, the verdict would be to have this formidable pianist, at an exalted stage of his youthful career, to program Beethoven Sonatas forever.