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Recital
DYNAMIC PIANISM IN YAKUSHEV MARIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 23, 2022
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev arrived Jan. 23 at his Mill Valley Chamber Music Society recital with the repute of playing loud and fast and delivering charming introductory musical remarks to his audience. He was true to form in Mill Valley’s Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church, preceding Haydn’s sple
Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
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.