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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

Jeremy Denk Feb. 13 in Weill Hall (J. McNeill Photo)

LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020

Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends.

But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposites, such as old classic recordings of Edwin Fischer (1936) with a modicum of damper pedaling, and Glenn Gould’s pointillism approach (1965), and currently Andras Schiff’s WTC readings with no pedal use at all. Mr. Denk’s mood before an audience of 800 that was sprinkled with local pianists was a mixture of modesty and introspection that gave the music the needed cohesion in a long recital. You had the feeling that this was the artist’s stamp of secure approval of a masterpiece.

In remarks from the stage the pianist mentioned that the music was yet to be firm in his memory, and thus there was a page turner. But the turner didn’t do much to earn his keep, as Mr. Denk did most of his own turning and often didn’t look at the score. He spoke about the spirituality of the music composed in 1722, and the difference from the Goldberg Variations that he recently played in a studio recording that for me had speedy tempos and sonic clarity.

The playing throughout the 111 minutes and one long intermission was not to the taste of many Bach keyboard devotees. It’s well known that in Weill legato playing can generate muddy sound, especially in Baroque music and even in composers such as Schumann, and Mr. Denk all evening used the damper pedal lavishly. The Hall’s instrument, perfectly in tune, was warmly voiced, and this added to a lush sound foreign to much Bach. Perhaps an old Baldwin piano, or a new Bösendorfer, would have sounded better for Bach’s WTC under Mr. Denk’s virtuosic fingers and feet?

That said, there was much felicitous playing. He almost always arpeggiated final chords in the slower fugues, played lovely graded crescendos, emphasized appoggiaturas and demonstrated keen dynamic control in soft playing for long periods. At the end of many phrases ritards were deftly done, and throughout there were just a few brief hesitations in the music’s flow, presumably due to the announced “yet to be fully baked” memorization. His left hand jumps off of accented notes were not for visual emphasis, but made sonic sense in mostly individual Preludes, but also in the dancing 19th Fugue in A. The B Flat Prelude and Fugue (No. 21) was played as a brilliant Toccata that had wonderful rhythmic vitality. Many fermatas were held for long seconds, enhancing the beauty.

At the beginning of the second half Mr. Denk announced that he would follow the final spiritual B Minor Prelude and Fugue, which has the longest fugue in the set, with a repetition of Book I’s opening Prelude in C Major. Oddly the playing of the C Major was slightly faster than the opening version, but it ended with a quiet arpeggiated chord that held the audience in rapt reverence. As the music finally crept into silence, a roar of audience approval erupted with a standing ovation.

Sonoma State Music Dept. Professor Alexander Kahn’s pre-recital lecture on Bach and the WTC was erudite, and surely helped many in the audience to appreciate the odyssey of hearing Mr. Denk in this magisterial music.