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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, March 21, 2015
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Olga Kern, piano

Pianist Olga Kern

RAVISHING RUSSIAN MUSIC AND SOLOIST BURNISH SRS CONCERT IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 21, 2015

It’s rare in a symphony concert, even one with many surprises, that a soloist takes on two disparate concertos with mostly identical results. But it was exactly the outcome of pianist Olga Kern’s appearance March 21 with the Santa Rosa Symphony in Weill Hall.

Surprises? The first came with her poetic but subdued performance in Rachmaninoff’s Op. 1 F-Sharp Minor Concerto. Choosing an approach removed from the standard heroism (recordings by the composer and compatriot Mikhail Pletnev) she adopted subtle inner rubatos and voices at the expense of big sonority, even in the first movement sections that clearly reflect the Grieg Concerto written 23 years before Rachmaninoff’s First. The well-played cadenza was assured but lacked the intense ecstasy that is needed throughout cadenzas in the composer’s concertos.

The Andante Cantabile was perfection, a lyric rumination where conductor Bruno Ferrandis crafted phrasing that melded with Ms. Kern’s deft dynamic control. The final arpeggio in the piano was lovely, as was the horn playing of Meredith Brown. The finale had the requisite excitement that easily overcame short sections where orchestra and soloist were not in sync and where the former’s sound covered the latter. There was a standing ovation and obviously the audience of 1,100 appreciated hearing Rachmaninoff other than the vastly more popular Second and Third Concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody.

Following intermission the pianist attacked Prokofiev’s D-Flat Major Concerto, the first of his five, and her dry and properly acerbic sound could be heard more clearly than the Rachmaninoff through Prokofiev’s lean orchestral texture. Another surprise was when Ms. Kern unexpectedly inserted small tempo changes and accented bass notes that were artistic and delightfully un-Prokofiev, so different from the composer’s directions for an energetic “mechanical” meter. Her skips and long left-hand crossed notes were always accurate in a work that demands just the right amount of percussive accents and fetching momentum. The applause was loud and long

It’s difficult to upstage a glamorous soloist as Ms. Kern, but I believe it was done in the reading of the 1945 Suite from Stravinsky’s 1910 ballet “The Firebird.” Mr. Ferrandis drew from the ensemble a 23-minute performance of shimmering orchestral virtuosity. The conductor, like Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco, has an affinity for this music and the playing in the Suite’s 11 sections was exhilarating. Among the sterling playing was a duo from Ms. Brown and oboist Laura Reynolds; harpist Dan Levitan; flutist Kathleen Lane Reynolds and Stacey Pelinka (doubling on piccolo); the trombone section; bassoonist Carla Wilson; and clarinetists Roy Zajac and Mark Wardlaw.

Stravinsky’s consummate orchestration was so vivid in Weill’s acoustics (sitting in the balcony) that the involved piano part, often submerged in similar music by Copland and Shostakovich, was distinctly heard. Kymry Esainko was the pianist.

Responding to the ovation the effervescent Mr. Ferrandis was called back several times, and took palpable pleasure in pointing to orchestra members to stand and acknowledge the acclaim for the exemplary
achievement in Stravinsky’s iridescent Suite.

Ed. Note: this review is the second of two for this concert