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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
MasterCard Performance Series / Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Lang Lang, piano

Lang Lang Playing Chopin's Aeolian Harp Study Feb. 17

CHOPIN, CHOPIN, LANG, LANG

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It’s always a recital of surprises when the exciting pianist Lang Lang plays. In a reprise concert from last season’s Weill Hall opening gala, the Chinese virtuoso eschewed 2012’s conventional format of Mozart Sonatas and Chopin Ballades and chose Sept. 17 a mixed bag of Chopin works that alternatively titillated and enraptured a full house that included 50 stage seats.

Mr. Lang’s pianism is startlingly complete with an inexhaustible command of technical details. Even in difficult cross-hand and speedy double-note passages, or in wide skips for both hands, his aim is infallible, and his pedaling precise. This was quickly evident in the opening G Minor Ballade, Op. 23, where the introduction and first theme were played ever so slowly. Slow thematic development is a hallmark of his playing, mostly a good thing, as Mr. Lang was clearly going to tell hearers a story with this and the F Major and F Minor Ballades. He did this by often teasing the phrase endings that almost broke the melodic lines and the story arc. Almost but not quite. And although he rarely tampers with the score, in the First and Fourth Ballade the pianist added long ritards in unique places and little sforzandi and deep bass notes to seemingly spice the texture.

The C-Sharp Minor Study of Op. 25 was pensive and achingly slow, as was the F Major Nocturne from Op. 15, the second work for me the loveliest performance of the first half. Closing the first part brilliantly was the E Flat Waltz of Op. 18, the flurry of repeated notes powerfully played and with a maximum amount of facial mugging and torso stretching.

Contrary to many notions, Mr. Lang’s best playing comes not from pyrotechnical scales and calculated drama but from his exquisite and delicate touch in short and long soft passages. His pianissimo control is superb, among the best of any living pianist. An example is the E-Flat Major Nocturne of Op. 55, a piece he played as an encore last year on the same stage, and the super slow tempo worked to his advantage. The high repeated B Flats were shafts of distant light rather than the usually described bell tones. The gold standard for this piece is Ignaz Friedman’s iconic 1936 recording, and Mr. Lang’s playing of this masterful Nocturne was an object lesson of the pianist’s touch and control. At the end, a slightly dissonant b flat-a flat-f-b flat chord hung in the air for seconds, the piano’s perfectly-adjusted damper fall resolving magically into the final resonance of three hushed e-flat chords. Breathtaking.

Chopin’s virtuosic and showy Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise ended the recital and was performed in the currently-accepted juxtaposition of tempos, the delicate Andante slow and dreamy and after a 16-bar introduction, a rapid jeu d’espirit Polonaise. This is the opposite way of past performance practice. But of course the big final five E Flat chords brought down the house, and the pianist played a fetching lyrical Chinese work, “Changes in the Moon,” after remarking to the rapt audience that a glorious late summer full moon was in the sky.

The printed program mixed up the pieces but Mr. Lang in short remarks to the audience announced an extra haunting Mazurka from Op.17, the Op. 25 “Aeolian Harp” Etude (serenely performed) and the D Flat Waltz (“Minute”), the last played with blazing speed, lengthy right-hand trills and a deliciously tasteless ending.

The recital was the first public hearing of the Hall’s newest concert piano, chosen in New York in August by Mr. Lang and prepared by the Hall’s insouciant consulting piano “curator,” Peter Sumner, and staff technician Larry Lobel. Both men were present to greet the artist and hear the instrument put vividly through its paces.

Lang Lang is an artist who has to be taken on his own terms, and what is pretentious playing to some is astounding pianistic entertainment to a great many. Piano recitals are the happy beneficiaries.