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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
Music at Oakmont / Thursday, February 11, 2016
Joel Fan, piano

Pianist Joel Fan

FAN RETURNS TO OAKMONT IN AN ECLECTIC RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 11, 2016

New York-based pianist Joel Fan hasn’t been a stranger to Sonoma County, having played in both the Concerts Grand and Music at Oakmont venues. February 11 he returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium in an eclectic and often electric recital before 200.

Beginning with Ginastera’s first Sonata Op. 22, Mr. Fan gave the popular work from 1952 a pulsating reading that stressed the contrasting textures and meters. In the Presto double octaves didn’t fail him, and there was palpable mystery and lovely soft playing in the Adagio molto. Even here there is a continual restless quality that the pianist portrayed. In the Ruvido ed ostinato finale Mr. Fan managed the toccata-like effects without pounding, the clarity of the chords and skips admirable. The composer wrote it with a distinct nod to Prokofiev’s famous Precipitato movement from his Seventh Sonata of 1943.

It was a reading that brought out the needed motor excitement of Ginastera’s piano writing (as in the “Danza del Gaucho Matrero” from the earlier Danzas Argentinas), and Mr. Fan spoke to the audience reflecting on his Ginastera interest and the centenary of the composer’s birth.

Recently Mr. Fan toured China and brought to the Berger stage three fetching works from the trip, Autumn Moon Over the Still Lake, Liuyang River and Plum Blossom. All were audience favorites. The tranquil “Autumn” featured murmuring arpeggios and subtle pedal effects, and “River” was a jaunty exploration of colorful harmonic progressions, faintly Ravel-like. There were lots of notes and a movie-music background effect, aural pleasure in every phrase.

Jianzhong Wang’s “Plum” was the most complex of the three, exploring more the bass register of the piano and featuring pedal point, counterpoint in the variations and little bursts of energy. Mr. Fan played them sui generis. These not-recent works are wholly conservative harmonically but no less charming for it. An intriguing and happily satisfying program choice by Mr. Fan.

Following intermission Liszt’s B Minor Sonata was played, a seminal 19th century romantic work that is the center of any recital where at appears. A good performance should clock in at about 30 minutes, giving
breathing space for the chorale and lyrical segments in the midst of the famous Presto octave passages and massive fistfuls of chords. The pianist never faltered in the Sonata’s formidable technical demands, but the 26-minute performance duration (a la Argerich) disclosed some important shortcomings.

This afternoon Mr. Fan mounted a conception of the 1853 one-movement Sonata that featured quick phrases, clarity in passagework, silvery octaves and clean fast trills. This approach has many admirable facets, as it moves the often dense interior writing into distinct small sections, illuminating the repeated left-hand motives and unifying what to some is a sprawling structure. The pianist’s dry and then half-pedal runs were precise and often sparkling, and the fermata before the coda was long and put a cap on the preceding and powerful octave-laden drama.

Missing in the performance was a critical part of Liszt’s genius, that of majesty. Again and again the score unfolded in hurried phrase endings and transitions, lack of rubato in voice leading and musical nobility that can come with reveling in the instrument’s sonority, and for many the B Minor Sonata’s heroism and religious underpinnings. An example of these omissions would be the perdendosi and triple piano 14-bar section before the beginning of the fugue, where Mr. Fan’s mundane playing overlooked the haunting character of the sublime and anticipatory writing.

Two encores were offered to solid but not strenuous applause, Piazzolla’s “Flora’s Game” and a popular contemporary Japanese song, “Castle in the Sky.” Both were played compellingly, the first a captivating seven-minute tango that could also have come from Villa-Lobos or Ginastera. Piazzolla has a lock on beguiling classical music milango tangos, reminding venerable Oakmont listeners of pianist Gila Goldstein’s “Oblivion” tango performance on the same stage.

The second (“Castle”) was the pianist’s own transcription with a more interesting harmonic structure, beautifully played with luminous tone and deft phrasing.

Joel Fan’s artistry has matured in many ways since appearing at Oakmont in 2011, and his playing now is more polished and sure footed. And he is a master programmer, balancing the new, old, foreign, familiar and conventional in consummately impressive parts.