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by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 18, 2014
At each Mendocino Music Festival a key evening is given over to a staged opera in the big tent, and last year Rossini’s frothy “Il Signor Bruschino” was an audience hit but hardly comprehensive operatic fare. Times change. Mozart’s weighty opera Don Giovanni was given a propulsive but often confus...
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Pianist Robert Schwartz opened Mendocino Music Festival’s piano series July 17 with a set of works in a recital made for keyboard connoisseurs. His success was doubly gratifying for the artist as he had played on the same stage at last year’s Festival, but had to cancel most of the recital due to il...
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Bach’s iconic D Minor Clavier Concerto was the centerpiece in the fourth day of Mendocino Music Festival events July 16 in the big tent concert hall, with San Francisco-based Stephen Prutsman the featured artist. Conducting a chamber orchestra of ten from a lidless piano, Mr. Prutsman took fast te...
Choral and Vocal
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Choral singing, especially unaccompanied by piano or orchestra, seldom gets exposure at a summer music festival. So it was a surprise July 16 to find the Mendocino Music Festival featuring a full program of a capella singing in downtown Mendocino’s Preston Hall. Perhaps due to the local performers...
by Terry McNeill
Monday, July 14, 2014
Napa’s Festival Del Sole’s summer resident orchestra, Sphinx, made a dramatic Weill Hall appearance July 15 with three star performers and a curious mix of pungent repertoire. Violinist Pinchas Zuckerman received the biggest adulation from the audience, closing the first half playing Bruch’s G Mino...
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 27, 2014
Though not as well known as the formidable Trio Navarro, the Amaryllis Trio has had an increasing chamber music presence since 2012 with manifold Sonoma and Marin County concerts. Sebastopol’s St. Stephen's Church and the Numina Center for the Arts hosted them June 27 in a sparkling concert of four ...
by Philip Beard
Thursday, June 12, 2014
"I think I just died and went to heaven" is a stock phrase for times of unusual bliss. On June 12 at SSU's Green Music Center, I didn't in fact die, but the 2½ hours spent listening to the National Brass Ensemble came as close to a brass player's heaven as I can imagine. The hall was all but sold o...
by Nicki Bell
Friday, May 30, 2014
The Cinnabar Theater mounted a delightful, madcap, rambunctious, completely charming, extremely funny, very classy production of Mozartʼs opera "The Marriage of Figaro" from May 30 to June 15. With the feel of a 1920s Upstairs/Downstairs farce, it was sung in English and easily understood. Tho...
by Steve Osborn
Thursday, May 22, 2014
For its postseason concert on May 22, the Santa Rosa Symphony--together with piano soloist Jeffrey Kahane and conductor Bruno Ferrandis--played for free. The money they would otherwise have earned will be used to benefit more than 20,000 children served by the Symphony's extensive outreach efforts, ...
by Earl Dixon
Sunday, May 18, 2014
The Ukiah Symphony Orchestra concluded its current season on the May 17 weekend with a focus on Shostakovich. The featured works in Mendocino College’s Center Theater were the second Piano Concerto in F major, Op. 102 and Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. Pianist Aaron Ames played the concerto an...
Jon Nakamatsu / Sunday, October 23, 2011
Jon Nakamatsu, piano

Jon Nakamatsu Playing Liszt's Sonetto Del Petrarca No. 123 (G. Louie Photo)


by John Metz
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jon Nakamatsu is a pianist that does everything well, and proved as much in his Oct. 23 Newman Auditorium recital that launched the final Concerts Grand recital season. Other pianists may have greater orchestral power, or more tonal colors, or faster left-hand octaves, but Mr. Nakamatsu, arguably the North Bay’s most popular virtuoso, has a faultless musical and technical approach to the works he programs.

Before a standing-room audience packed with musicians he began with Rameau’s haunting Gavotte with Variations, exhibiting a crystalline Baroque touch and artful execution of ornamentation. His control of embellishments never distorted the line and he often in ornaments used descending rolled chords, an uncommon choice but I think telling. His pedaling in the Rameau, as throughout the recital, was discrete and was just enough to get the desired tone without overwhelming this delicate music. In the Second Variation the tempo was quick, giving the artist some difficulty with the rising left-hand scale figures. The fast pace continued in the exciting Fifth and Sixth Variations, quasi toccata in style, and occasionally a few repeated notes didn’t sound, perhaps sacrificed for the sake rhythmic energy. A perfect piece to start the program.

Brahms’ granitic C Major Sonata came next, probably a local premiere as it’s rarely performed in favor of the F Minor Sonata or the Handel Variations. It’s an extroverted work throughout, the poignant second theme being pure young Brahms and composed at age 19. Mr. Nakamatsu played the first movement with complete control over his tone quality, shining in lyrical passages, and I appreciated the repeat of the exposition. It sounded organic rather than arbitrary or customary. In general the sound was classical rather than romantic, but at times in the burlier passages the playing was a bit careful. In the development some moments of embellishment figurations could have been more whimsical and extemporaneous.

The antiphonal Minnesong that proceeds into a series of variations had a plaintive, mystical quality, the pianist’s tone chaste. The Scherzo was a vibrant technical display with crisp and detached right-hand chords. Mr. Nakamatsu was aiming for clarity, using a secco touch, and in the Trio the clear execution of three sound planes (high melody, medium tremolo chords, and low bassline/counter melody) were all contrapuntally distinguishable.

The finale with its frequent wicked leaps to dense chords requires a brave performer, and the pianist was up to the task, playing with grand sweep and vigor. In summary, a rousing performance of a knotty work, controlled yet passionate, a sonata new to most of the audience.

After intermission the popular Liszt Sonetti Del Petrarca were played, beginning with the rhapsodic No. 47. Here Mr. Nakamatsu was in his element, mixing lyricism, drama and pathos, never overplaying the contrasts. Sonetto No. 104 is everyone’s favorite and received here a heartfelt and touching performance. In this work everything, from simple melody sections to romantic cadenza-like outbursts, sounded organic. The artist has great thirds and a deft pedal, the latter on display in the elegant and nostalgic Sonetto No. 123. This was perhaps the finest playing of the afternoon with amazing piano and pianissimo command and at times an absolutely ethereal tone. Breathtaking.

The best of the afternoon? Maybe, but the closing Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante in E, Op. 22, of Chopin, is a work Mr. Nakamatsu “owns” and one that he has recorded and played all over the world. The ne plus ultra Op. 22 is Hofmann’s iconic 1937 Golden Jubilee recording, where in the old pianistic style the Andante is played on the fast side and the Polonaise is a more subdued dance. The modern style is the opposite, and Mr. Nakamatsu is a thoroughly modern pianist, and he played the Andante exquisitely, the arabesque-like embellishments sounding free and the theme sweetly singing over a ruminating left hand. The chorale middle section was briskly elegant, leading effortlessly to the repetition and the pompous fanfare that is a bridge between the work’s two sections. This is an effervescent Polish dance, a Polonaise of lighthearted fun. The artist himself seemed to be having fun playing it and showing the audience a good time. The swirling, humorous and never-ending coda was sensationally played, the vehement final five E Flat chords bringing the crowd to its feet in a thunderous ovation.

I sense the artist has a deep connection with this work and he lavished some inner voices and interesting (never affected) rhythmic innovations that were a delight. The meteoric Chopin’s music is poetic song, and here song was combined with technical mastery that was convincing in every way. Clearly Mr. Nakamsu’s strength is in lyrical playing. Give him a nice melody and he will make you swoon.

Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song “Widmung” (dedication) was the only encore, and it received an opulent performance that any great German lieder singer would have been proud of.

Mr. Nakamatsu’s sovereign artistry produced the finest North Bay piano concert since the 2009 recitals of Valentina Lisitsa and Nareh Arghamanyan on the same stage.

Elenor Barcsak, John Boyajy, Gerald Blodgett, Victor Spear and Terry McNeill contributed to this review