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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

Steven Spooner Playing Liszt's 2nd Legend Feb. 27

PROGRAM CHANGES TRANSFORM SPOONER'S LISZT IN NEWMAN HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Steven Spooner is a pianist of many musical surprises. In his Feb. 27 recital for Concerts Grand in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium, the Kansas University artist sharply changed the printed program, beginning with a work of his own. The unexpected changes made a good recital, on paper, into an exceptional experience.

That work of his own, a meandering “new age” Etude in the fashion of jazz artist Keith Jarrett, worked well to quiet an audience of 90 in the chilly hall. The tune “My Funny Valentine” was imbedded in the chromaticism, and clearly Mr. Spooner understands Mr. Jarrett’s poetic keyboard style.

Three Chopin works, also sans program notes, followed, beginning with the first Polonaise in C Sharp, Op. 26. This lyrical piece has a bold opening that recurs often and the pianist gave each repetition a different character. The same could be said of the playing of the youthful Mazurkas of Op. 7, the bagpipe trio of the Mazurka in F beautifully phrased. Mr. Spooner’s Chopin pianism featured subtle meter shifts and equally subtle colors, both central to an artistic Mazurka reading. His rubatos were many and old fashioned, a la Paderewski.

Finally deciding to play a programmed work, the pianist launched into the not popular but telling Haydn’s 48th Sonata in C, Hob. XIV/35. The two-movement Sonata received the pianist’s close attention to the improvisatory opening’s slowly-unfolding theme, and the closing second movement was effervescent with Haydn’s ubiquitous humor, clear scale playing and a catchy left-hand upward bass run that appeared twice. Wonderful music, expertly played.

The first half ended with the printed program’s ending for the second half, Liszt’s sweeping Second Legend (St. Francis Walking on the Waves), from 1863. This performance was radically different that Elenor Barcsak’s lyrical performance in Marin in 2010 and the Antonio Iturrioz performance in April of 2009 in Newman that was diminished by “luftpause” breaks in the long line. Mr. Spooner had the endurance to push the broken octaves in the left hand to maximum volume and the feeling of rolling waves was palpable. This is program music that demands a bravura technique, the religious ecstasy evident at the end when the pianist created the great saint on his cloak crossing the roaring ocean.

Another fascinating program change occupied the entire second half, Liszt’s B Minor Sonata. Santa Rosa has heard recent performances of this 1853 masterpiece from Hewitt, Bronfman, Margulis and most notably Garrick Ohlsson in 2007, and Mr. Spooner’s interpretation had a little from each, but the whole was entirely his own. His comments to the audience, always to the point and engrossing, cast the formidable 30-minute work as encompassing the composer’s deeply religious nature and thoughts of immortality. Mr. Spooner has a technique that is not naturally facile and I would suspect the glittering fast-speed octaves and orchestral chord playing are the result of long work and thought on the Sonata. The bucolic chorale sections interrupting surging parts of the single movement were a transfiguration, calling a listener’s attention to celestial space and repose. He was never in a hurry to get anywhere and his rhythmic mastery was complete.

At the original end of this extraordinary music odyssey a single fortissimo chord is heard , but Liszt altered the that score to add 32 more measures, gradually having them fading away to pianissimo. Mr. Spooner’s chordal weighting and pedal control was superb, the music sonorous but fleeting, and there was a ten-second hush beyond the final bottom B note (played neither staccato nor as a fermata).

If an encore was demanded, and it was, it had to be something diametrically opposed to the storms of the Legend and Sonata. Mr. Spooner presented Chopin’s “Farewell” Waltz in F Minor, Op. 69, No. 1. It was an understated performance, perfectly capturing the melancholy and nostalgia.

The reviewer is also the producer of the Concerts Grand series.