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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

Pianist George Li

GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019

Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy that now is establishing an important international career at the age of 24. A Wunderkind is now a splendid recitalist.

His program was conventional and in many ways his interpretations of Beethoven and Liszt were conformist, albeit at a virtuoso level of technique and insight. Beethoven’s Andante Favori and the C Major “Waldstein” Sonata comprised the first half before 200, the largest recent audience in Berger Auditorium. The Andante (WoO 57) was played with just the right tempo with sprightly small ornaments that moved around the principal note and often a staccato touch. Phrases were shaped with care. A finished performance.

Impeccable scale technic was a prime part of Mr. Li’s Beethoven Sonata, and throughout the performance his exemplary pianistic prowess was on full display. The command of seamless changes in volume and rhythm characterized the opening allegro, with scant attention paid to ritards or the humor in the writing. Haydn is often noted as the humorist in classical period music, but Beethoven is also a master of comedy in his scores, an approach foreign to Mr. Li’s conception, at least in this afternoon’s reading.

The slow adagio molto was spiritually shaped with a whiff of mystery, and calmly lead into the concluding Rondo. Marked allegretto moderato, standard interpretations of this magical movement are played in a dreamy style, and Mr. Li did so effortlessly with expert pedaling but no pedal point or inner voices. Scale playing was again faultless and he chose to play the famous octave passages in both hands as scales rather than employing glissandos. The bright top register of the hall’s piano was ideal for the “Waldstein” interpretation.

Two Liszt works, the Sonetto Del Petrarca No. 104 the Les Jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este (from Années de Pèlerinage, Vol. 3), began the second half and were highlights of the afternoon. Here the pianist’s repeated note mastery, fast trills and novel soft sforzandos produced a shimmering sense of water inspired by the Tivoli Villa near Rome, and perfection in running thirds and subtle dynamic control came in the Sonetto. The decrescendo in the last few bars of the Sonetto was captivating and masterfully phrased. Rich tonal color was also heard in each of these pieces.

Reminiscences of Don Juan, from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, closed the formal program in a blaze of virtuosity. Mr. Li’s technical arsenal seems to have everything, and everything is needed in this 16-minute pianistic tour de force - speedy octaves, skips, detaché touch, brilliant repeated chords, fluent thematic statements and clarity at places of exceptional difficulty. However, for this extravagant music Mr. Li lacked a critical item of technic – instrumental volume and sonority.

Orchestral sonority in piano playing is not a factor of the pianist’s physical size, and many powerhouses in the past (Rosenthal, Anton Rubinstein, Hofmann, Horowitz) were below average in height. The sound needed for a great performance of Liszt’s Don Juan is produced by a mix of arm and shoulder strength, speed of key descent and adroit pedaling. Mr. Lee’s interpretation, however admirable, could not generate the needed musical force and demonic punch. Musical histrionics demand tumult.

Of course the playing brought down the house, and the artist returned to the stage and played a melting and mournful Intermezzo from Brahms’ Op. 118, No. 6. Another encore was demanded and he launched into the virtuoso showpiece of Liszt’s third study (La Campanella) from the set of Paganini Etudes from 1851. His dazzling command of upper register repeated notes never failed him.