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SIX GUITARISTS IN UNIQUE NAPA RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The first Napa Valley Guitar Festival was held at Napa’s First Presbyterian Church July 25, and featured performances from six classical guitarists. The Church is an iconic structure in downtown Napa, its huge white presence dominating the scene, and the white theme continues inside punctuated by be
Chamber
CLARA SCHUMANN TRIO COMMANDS VOM CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERT AT HANNA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Series has begun several virtual and a few live concerts in its new seventh season, some broadcast from Sonoma’s Hanna Center Hall and some in posh local venues. July 24’s video had a small live audience and a well-produced video program of three works. Titled “
Chamber
EXEMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MENDO FESTIVAL FT. BRAGG CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Faced with the impossibility of presenting concerts in the iconic large white tent on the bluff, the Mendocino Music Festival opted to use Ft. Bragg’s Cotton Auditorium for ten events in the abbreviated 35th season. San Francisco’s Alexander String Quartet played July 21 to a fully masked audience
Chamber
ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING AT PIANOSONOMA CONCERT IN SCHROEDER HALL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
After a dark year bereft of live performance, pianoSonoma launched July 20 the first Vino & Vibrato concert of the 2021 season in Sonoma State's Schroeder Hall, albeit sadly senza vino due to Covid protocols. Three exceptional musicians showered the audience with an interesting variety of pia
Chamber
RARELY-PLAYED SCHUMANN HIGHLIGHTS HEALDSBURG RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 10, 2021
Brave New Music sporadically produces concerts in and around Healdsburg, and July 10’s violin recital in downtown St. Paul’s Church must have been one of the first post-lockdown, post-be-extra-careful classical music concerts in Sonoma County's summer season. New Music Founder Gary McLaughlin with
Chamber
ECHOS ON A WARM SUMMER NIGHT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, July 10, 2021
ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s first concert in a year and a half, “A Musical Promenade,” was a promenade indeed. When patrons arrived at San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for the 6:00 performance July 10, they were funneled through the garden to the Duncan Hall patio, where folding chairs were set
Chamber
LONG DISTANCE LOVE BEGINS VOM SUMMER FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Thursday, June 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival offered a 7th season preview June 24 with a stunning online concert, aptly named Long Distance Love, featuring inspired performances of Beethoven's short song cycle An die ferne Geliebte,, and selections from Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Wal
Recital
ROMERO'S ARTISTRY IN SLV RECITAL PROGRAMMING AND PERFORMANCE
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Gustavo Romero has been an admired visitor to North Bay stages, playing over a decade recitals at Dominican University, the Music at Oakmont concerts and at the Spring Lake Village Concert Series. He returned June 2 to SLV in a virtual recital, videoed from his home concert hall the University of N
RUBICON'S VIRTUAL CONCERT A MALANGE OF CONTRASTS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 16, 2021
The inaugural concert of a new Mendocino County chamber group is a reason for celebration, and the Rubicon Trio made the most of a mixed musical menu during a May16 virtual concert. Presented by the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra as the last in their “Salons with the Symphony” Series, the Rubicon began w
Recital
PIANO VIRTUOSITY IN YAKUSHEV'S REDWOOD ARTS RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev’s recital for the Redwood Arts Council was perhaps the local season’s virtual music at the greatest distance, as the filming May 16 came from a church in St. Petersburg. And good filming it was, with multiple camera viewpoints of the church, full and split screens and
CHAMBER REVIEW
Elena Kuschnerova / Sunday, March 1, 2009
Elena Kuschnerova, Pianist

Elena Kuschnerova at the Newman Auditorium Piano

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 1, 2009

People attending pianist Elena Kuschnerova’s March 1 Newman Auditorium concert came with anticipation of a challenging afternoon, as the Russian’s presence on YouTube and a comprehensive website disclosed a wide range of repertoire and powerful command of the instrument. I don’t believe anyone was disappointed.

Part of the Concerts Grand series, the recital’s first section was all German, appropriate as Kuschnerova lives in Baden Baden, and it’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn. The Variations Serieuses, Op. 54, and three of the Songs Without Words were performed with richly contrasting textures and a long lyrical line. The songs (May Breezes, Lost Illusions, and Spinning Song) received warm readings with a delicate touch and sprightly agility. The variations were played with consummate pianistic skill, notably the fugal (No. 10) and the following Schumannesque (No. 11). Everything was in place with technical dash, the descending left-hand figurations in the 15th variation resounding deep into the bass. Mendelssohn never wrote a better work for piano, and Kuschnerova gave a grand reading.

Bach’s Second French Suite began the program. Kuschnerova played it in a carefully measured way, the architectural backbone surrounded by sparkles of notes, all held together by clear delineation of each of the voices. The fast Corrente was deftly played and the two-voice Gigue’s dotted notes received an attentive performance in decorous Baroque style.

Kuschnerova chose only Russian composers for the second half, running a chronological gamut from the first great one (Glinka) to the controversial Alexander Lokshin (1920-1987). Glinka’s lovely short Nocturne La Separation mirrors Field’s works of the same title, less complex and deep than Chopin’s oeuvre, but no less lyrical. Tchaikovsky’s Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 19, followed, and its 16-measure theme was nobly stated. The quirky third variation was brilliantly played, the alla mazurka ninth danced provocatively, and the conclusions of the fleet coda brought down the house.

The pianist preceded Alexander Lokshin’s In The Spring and Prelude and Theme with Variations with an extended summary from the stage of Lokshin’s tragic life under Soviet rule. Kuschnerova knew the composer, and her sympathy with his plight was palpable. In the Spring, a poetic 45-bar bagatelle, was lovely, and the variations were sharply dissonant and assured. A good number of the 85 in the audience stood to applaud, a novel demonstration for an unknown composer’s work, and certainly a tribute to Kuschnerova’s passionate advocacy. Lokshin’s music has had few champions, the conductor Rudolph Barshai now being joined by Kuschnerova in heralding a Soviet-era master.

Closing a memorable concert was the tumult of Stravinsky’s Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka, virtuoso paraphrases of three scenes from the famous ballet of 1920. This polytonal transcription ranks with a handful of piano works (e. g., Liszt’s Tannhauser Overture, Balakirev’s Islamey, and Ives’ Concord Sonata) as the most difficult to play on the modern piano. Kuschnerova, who was not well during the entire recital, rose to the pyrotechnical demands of the Danse Russe and La Semaine Grasse magnificently. She seemed to tire towards the end, losing small details in the volleys of forte octaves, march-like chords and incessant bravura.

Three encores were offered, the best being another Mendelssohn song (Passion) and Siloti’s transcription of the Bach Prelude in B Minor. The latter was a richly colored example of captivating legato playing.

Elena Kuschnerova communicated in a personal way with her Newman audience, serving the composers she chose to perform and exemplifying the majesty of the great Russian romantic piano tradition.

Marin pianist Ken Iisaka contributed to this review.