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Recital
DYNAMIC PIANISM IN YAKUSHEV MARIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 23, 2022
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev arrived Jan. 23 at his Mill Valley Chamber Music Society recital with the repute of playing loud and fast and delivering charming introductory musical remarks to his audience. He was true to form in Mill Valley’s Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church, preceding Haydn’s sple
Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
REVIEW
San Francisco International Piano Festival / Sunday, August 29, 2021
Jory Vinikour and Philippe LeRoy, harpsichord; Gwendolyn Mok and Jeffrey LaDeur, piano

G. Mok and J. LaDeur August 29 at Festival's End

GAULIST FLAVOR IN FINAL SF PIANO FESTIVAL CONCERT AT OLD FIRST

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, August 29, 2021

Final summer music festival programs are often a mix of what has come before, with the theme and even a featured composer taking a last stage appearance, with a dramatic wrap up composition. San Francisco’s International Piano Festival defied the norm August 29 with an eclectic French-flavored program, mostly virtual and finally with an audience of 60 in the venerable Old First Church sanctuary (O1C) on Van Ness Avenue.

Directed by Jeffrey LaDeur, the “Les Années Folles” began with a transcription of Poulenc’s 1936 Suite Francaise, heralding a day of transcriptions. The seven-section Suite juxtaposed Jory Vinikour at a two-manual concert harpsichord with pianist Gwendolyn Mok playing the house concert Steinway, alternating sections and reflecting on their colleague’s artistry.

I must be said that in O1C dynamics are problematical and many find the small balcony best. String quartets are good, as is piano sound below mezzo forte, but as more volume is added acoustics become mud, sporadically enhanced by busses moving out and fire engine sirens. In this performance the “Pavane” was heard as a slow religious march, using perhaps old modes, and the harpsichord’s faint sound in the “Petite Marche Militaire” carried surprisingly well, as did the introduction of “Complainte” with a note of mystery. Ms. Mok’s “Bransle de Champagne” continued the same theme, followed by Mr. Vinikour’s bucolic and stately playing in the “Sicilienne.”

The celebratory combo in the (“Carillon”) finale was effectively played, with Ms. Mok’s damper pedaling covering at times the harpsichord’s line. A splendid beginning with captivating music.

Two Couperin works followed, the “Les Folie Francoise sou les Domininos” (13th Ordre, B Minor) and from the 8th Ordre a “Passacaille.” Philippe LeRoy was the virtuoso harpsichordist, his playing awash with trills, mordants, turns, appoggiaturas and stylistic flourishes that the music demands. The key dip in a harpsichord is less than the .375” of a piano, giving his elaborations around the themes blinding speed. Couperin was a contemporary of Bach, Scarlatti and Handel, but his music is radically different than each, and Mr. LeRoy’s superb playing in the “Passacaille” contained tasteful off-beat accents and lots of arpeggios.

Nadia Boulanger’s fame as a composition teacher has made her own small output rarely heard, and it was a treat to have Mr. LaDeur perform the four-minute “Vers la vie Nouvelle” (To the New Life) from 1918. The pianist underscored a strong bass pedal point sound in the prelude, turning to chirpy phrases in the treble and lyrical harmonies that reminded one of late Liszt.

More unfamiliar music was heard in the second half with five pieces from Déodat de Séverac’s En Vascances (Book I, 1912) and Tailleferre’s “Deux Valses.” Each of the charming Séverac miniatures were played with enchanting individuality, the highlights being the up tempo skittish Mimi se Déguise en “Marquise”, with its Rameau connection, and the courtly salon “Valse” that was faintly Grieg and Blumenfeld in delicious modulations. Frothy waltzes continued in the Tailleferre, the second (Valse brillante) being more complicated and was played in a loud rocking jovial French style as it gathered speed.

Ravel’s omniscient “La Valse” in the two-piano transcription ended the concert and the 10-day Festival, Ms. Mok at the powerful Church Steinway and Mr. LaDeur front and center playing an interloper, a rarely seen Steingräeber piano that eclipses even a Fazioli in cost. It’s a work that seems to go off the rails of Viennese convention: sweeping glissandos pile onto shrill passages, deceptive cadences and potent rumbles to generate a decadent and a slowly increasing tsumani of muscular sound. The duo ended this seminal piece not with a whimper but with a bang.

There was no encore and in COVID times no reception in O1C’s popular but timeworn basement. The concert was an appropriate end to a uniquely inspiring summer Festival.