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Chamber
WINDS BLOW SWEETLY IN WEST COUNTY
by Philip Beard
Sunday, March 01, 2015
March 1 was the perfect date for a rousing wind-groups concert at the Occidental Center for the Arts. Two local groups, the Coastal Winds Woodwind Quintet and the 5th Avenue Brass Quintet, did themselves proud before a near-sellout crowd. The performance was to benefit the host Center, currently r...
Choral and Vocal
A DEFINITIVE ST. MATTHEW AT ABS BELVEDERE CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, February 27, 2015
The American Bach Soloists performed Bach’s timeless St. Matthew Passion Feb. 27 to a sold-out audience at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. In the account of Christ’s last hours as set forth by evangelist Matthew, the Passion stands supreme, beside the Mass in B Minor, as Bach’s finest creation. ...
Symphony
HEALDSBURG PHILHARMONIA PLAYS THE RAVEN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Les Pfutzenreuter is a conductor that gets around, moving from his Ukiah base at Mendocino College and the Ukiah Symphony to festival and concert appearances with many orchestras. February 22 found him with the Healdsburg Philharmonia in that City’s Raven Theater with works of Copland and Tcha...
Symphony
CHAMPAGNE ORGY OF SWISS ORCHESTRA'S SOUND IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Orchestras on tour usually perform hefty display works to showoff their virtuosity and power. And so it was with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR) Feb. 14 in Weill Hall. Big works, weighty display. And in a surprise the compositions by Stravinsky and Ravel in the second half did the rare th...
Symphony
LENGTH? HEAVENLY LENGTH AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 14, 2015
A Bruckner Symphony performance can be a demanding task for both the orchestra and audience, as each of the nine are long and musically wandering. But not all that wander are lost, as the Sonoma County Philharmonic proved in their Feb. 15 concert in the Santa Rosa High School Performing Arts Center...
Symphony
BOLD OPERATIC AND SYMPHONIC CONTRASTS IN SF SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Pianist Peter Serkin and San Francisco Symphony Laureate conductor Herbert Blomstedt pulled musical extremes together on Feb. 12 in Weill Hall Symphony concert where artistic experience was a defining factor. From the warmth and humor of Mozart’s F Major Piano Concerto, K. 459, to the turmoil, drama...
Symphony
A BANDONEONIST WALKS INTO A BAR ...
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 08, 2015
Seeing a bandoneón player in front of a symphony orchestra reminds one of the old joke about a kangaroo walking into a high-priced bar. The bartender says, "We don't get many kangaroos in here," to which the kangaroo replies, "With these prices, I can see why." Likewise, if a bandoneónist were to wa...
Chamber
INTENSE STRING PLAYING IN HEALDSBURG'S ALL-POLISH COMPOSER PROGRAM
by Nicki Bell
Wednesday, February 04, 2015
A surprise program change greeted a full house in Healdsburg’s SHED Grange Room Feb. 4 when the Szymanowski Quartet from Warsaw played an all-Polish composer concert. Judging by audience comments at intermission the displacement of an arrangement of a Mussorgsky work by Penderecki’s Third Quartet w...
Chamber
KNOTTY CELLO MUSIC THAT WAS (MOSTLY) EASY TO LOVE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Notable cello concerts have recently graced Sonoma County with Edward Arron’s Oakmont recital and Yo Yo Ma’s sterling solo outing in Weill. So it was not surprising that Sæunn Thorsteindóttir walked onto the Schroeder Hall stage Feb. 1 with pianist Elizabeth Roe and found a packed house of non-Supe...
Symphony
ZOOLOGICAL THEME RESOUNDS IN SPLENDID VSO HOGAN CONCERT
by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, January 25, 2015
A pair of virtuosic young pianists wowed the crowd Jan. 25 at the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra concert in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium, and part of the proceeds from the mostly animal-themed music benefited the Humane Society of the North Bay. Symphony conductor David Ramadanoff warmed up the afternoon...
RECITAL REVIEW
Dominican University / Sunday, October 09, 2011
June Choi Oh, piano

June Choi Oh After a Chopin Waltz Encore Oct. 9

COMPELLING PIANISM IN JUNE CHOI OH'S DRAMATIC DOMINICAN UNIVERSITY RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 09, 2011

Inaugurating a new recital hall piano is always a celebratory event, and Dominican University in San Rafael did the celebration right Oct. 9 when faculty pianist June Choi Oh opened the Guest Concert Series’ 11th season in Angelico Hall.

Choosing works that displayed the full range of the Bösendorfer 290 and her formidable artistry, Ms. Oh began with graceful account of Schubert’s popular B-Flat Major Impromptu, Op. 142, No. 3. Arguably Schubert’s most enchanting set of variations, five in all, they were played with élan, the trills in the second variation fast, and the final variation the scale passages shimmered. It might have been a bit too Chopinesque for some but I found the reading readily convincing.

A new piano called for a new work, and the artist complied with a world premiere of Robert Pollock’s “In the Middle of C”. The piece was the highlight of the recital, using every pitch on the piano including the nine extra bass-end notes, and seemed longer than the reported 10 minutes duration. But it was a good extension of time, as the improvisatory and impulsive nature of the composition was captivating. At times pointilistic and frenzied, sforzandos contrasting with rapid lyrical sections over pedal point, “In The Middle of C” under Ms. Oh’s strong fingers and nimble feet had considerable impact. The piano’s characteristics, at least in one hearing, were everywhere displayed: the growl of notes below the bottom A, a rather muddy lower tenor and a top end that has yet to really sing out. But it’s new and presumably will become organic after substantial playing.

Mr. Pollock’s work on its maiden voyage exploited everything that Ms. Oh could give it – massive forte chords at opposite ends of the keyboard, much use of the sostenuto pedal, percussive and violent phrases and an intriguing ending. Playing from score, Ms. Oh evoked at times the Ives “Concord” Sonata, a demanding pianistic tour de force that lasts 45 minutes. The audience knew they had heard a provocative work, worthy of more performances, and I hope Ms. Oh continues to program it.

The first half ended with Beethoven’s F Minor Sonata, the Op. 57 “Appassionata”. Lately this work has been receiving structural interpretations, but Ms. Oh would have none of that. The composer wanted canon fire in his favorite Sonata, and received it here with playing replete in excitement and at times unbridled drama. The opening Alllegro assai had compelling power. The artist often sets up phrases with short “luft pause” but never so long as to break the melodic line. A pesky memory lapse was perfectly resolved, the movement dying off in a haze of lovely right-hand thirds played pianissimo.

Beautiful chordal weighting characterized the second movement’s short theme and variations, repeats overlapped with a deft damper pedal use. Here Ms. Oh found sound and not structure. The concluding Allegro man non toppo, ushered in with 13 volcanic chords, was well played if not the last word in dynamic contrast. It was not that the pianist didn’t demand dynamic extremes, simply that the detached tarantella responses to the sonic explosions could have been more disparate. The conclusion blazed and elicited cheers from the audience of 125.

Two Chopin Nocturnes opened the second half, both in C Minor, and the first Op. Post. Nocturne I had never heard in concert. Rightly so as it’s bottom-drawer Chopin, a composer that ranks with Ravel and a few others in the high percentage of masterpieces. The following Op. 48 Nocturne, a potent piece that showed Ms. Oh’s fine octaves, was hampered by a lack of clarity in the middle of the piano and the resulting diminished projection of inner voices. The piano again seemed to be the culprit, added by a lot of pedal. The pedal point at the bottom C in the coda, leading to the final three chords, was captivating and perfectly gauged.

Chopin granitic B-Flat Minor Sonata, Op. 35 (Funeral March) closed the concert. Here the tempo in the development was brisk and the pianist opted for the long repeat. This repeat is controversial, and many great pianists (Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz) omit it. Ms. Oh made the best of the repeat, giving it different broken chords and dynamics. All to the good, and the romantic and popular left hand triple fff B Flat at the end was not doubled. The diabolically difficult Scherzo was over pedaled in places but intensely energetic. Ms. Oh is a pianist that is not afraid of her left hand. The renowned third-movement march was played episodically, an extra slow tempo underscoring the angelic lyricism of the middle section. It was not quite an interpretation in the Slavic tradition (a complete parade from the most ethereal pianissimo to the loudest forte, and back), but one certainly carefully thought out and strongly executed.

The eerie unison finale (Presto) was played wonderfully, never rising above a low murmur and with brilliant finger technique. It cast a spell, abruptly broken by a huge B-Flat Chord, and reflected the epitaph “wind over the graves.”

One encore was offered, Chopin’s D Flat Waltz of Op. 64 (Minute), played with just the right balance of speed and charm.

At the beginning of the program Dominican Music Department Chair Craig Singleton and Arts School Dean Nicola Pitchford gave lengthy introductory remarks concerning the piano’s funding and Dominican’s place in the Marin arts scene. University President Mary Marcy was in the audience, surely a sign that Series Director Ms. Oh will continue to administer concert seasons with a long tenure for Marin music lovers.

John Metz, Elenor Barcsak, Kenn Gartner and Marie Carbone contributed to the above review.