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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, October 22, 2016
Denis Matsuev, piano

Pianist Denis Matsuev

SOUND AND FURY IN MATSUEV WEILL HALL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 22, 2016

A touring virtuoso’s reputation often precedes him or her, and usually that’s a good thing. The reputation of a Renée Fleming or a Yo Yo Ma can guarantee a sold out hall, and possibly a great concert. But not always, and so there was some concern at Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s Oct. 23 Weill recital that he would very well be another in a long line of fleet and heavy-handed Slavic pianists. And so it was mostly to be.

Curiously the program’s first item, Beethoven’s autumnal A-Flat Major Sonata, Op. 110, received the night’s most convincing reading. Bounding on the stage Mr. Matsuev went straight to the piano and straight to a quick but workmanlike interpretation of the work, the composer’s penultimate piano sonata. Speed of conception and attack were to be the evening’s norm, but here the non-romantic interpretation had interest and clarity.

In the opening Moderato there was deft left-hand chord voicing and the ritards were in the right places, but never in the unexpected places. An occasional note was held into a following phrase but the artist seldom lets much air into a phrase division, preferring always to forge ahead. The Fugue was a thoroughly modern reading, masterly without mystery, with no relaxing of tempo and no ritard in the final ascending phrase to the final chord.

A standing ovation from the audience of 600 ensued (after the first piece!) and the artist then launched into Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 15. Mr. Matsuev was it his best in the strong rhythmic sections of the 12 studies, wide left-hand skips and in staccato chord phrases. He played the often-omitted five etudes (variations) with a warm touch. Lavish damper pedal was used, underscoring sonic contrasts, but the music had no inner voices, repose or charm. The pianist never seems to slow down, and the potent playing in the ending march produced another standing ovation.

Liszt’s First Mephisto Waltz, a virtuoso specialty that was an odd choice to start the second half, was beautiful in slow sections but cacophonous in the fast ones. It was playing of prodigious speed and power and the contrary octaves at the end were the fastest I have encountered in many years. It’s that kind of piece, but a greater musical impact could have been made with Liszt’s later and cryptic Mephisto Two, Three or Four, or the Bagatelle sans Tonalitie. Pieces of depth and sacrament.

A bon bon before the onslaught of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, Tchaikovsky’s poetic Op. 72 Meditation, was overplayed and too operatic. The Prokofiev B-Flat Major was the expected barnburner piece, arguably the most popular piano sonata of the 20th Century. Mr. Matsuev perfectly caught the snarl and mechanical drive of the first movement Allegro Inquieto. It was a fast, loud and intensive approach to music that mostly demands such treatment.

The playing of the plaintive “rose between the thorns” Andante was brisk and never broke the original rhythm, but there was little notice of the lush harmonies and pensive theme. The ending with its enigmatic soft right-hand chords was haunting.

Mr. Matsuev then charged into the brilliant Precipitato with headlong abandon and Forte chords from the opening racehorse bell. It was a muddy but explosive interpretation that rose in an accelerated roar to four gigantic B-Flat chords. It brought down the house and brought the pianist in a dramatic physical leap from the piano bench to the front of the Weill stage. It was showy and acrobatic, an impressive feat for a husky physique that resembles the artist’s late compatriot Emil Gilels.

From the three encores two were memorable for opposite reasons. Liadov’s Musical Snuff-Box imitates a music box by tinkling in the piano’s upper register, and Mr. Matsuev played the old chestnut with chaste tone and limpid phrasing, teasing the theme with care. Then another volcano erupted, a five-minute work that was first Fats Waller, then Keith Jarrett, and finally a tsunami of flying and noisy figurations and clangorous chords. I have no idea about the identity of the composer, and it was probably the pianist.

An analogy to Mr. Matsuev’s recital might be the famous Vladimir Horowitz 1928 American debut concert performance with Tchaikovsky’s B Flat Minor Concerto. Backstage following the event Rachmaninoff approached Horowitz and said to him (In Russian) “It was very loud, and it was very fast, but it wasn’t very beautiful.”