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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, March 19, 2017
Haochen Zhang, piano

Pianist Hauchen Zhang

SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017

Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable performer in his March 19 recital in Schroeder Hall.

The pianist began a demanding concert with two big Schumann works of opposite emotional content. The Op. 15 Kinderszenen came first and received a performance that stuck closely to the programmatic connotations of the 14 individual pieces. Longer than expected ritards and taking all of the repeats underscored sober and carefully crafted playing, and sometime Mr. Zhang paused between sections, and sometime with pedal he connected them. The slow ending of Träumerei was enchanting.

It was the best local performance of Kinderszenen since Valentina Lisitsa’s traversal seven years ago in the Concerts Grand series.

The recital’s finest playing came with the Symphonic Etudes, Op.13, written in 1834 and played here without the whole additional set of five posthumous variations. Mr. Zhang did surprisingly insert the C-Sharp Minor Variation (of the five) between Etudes 2 and 3, and etherial D-Flat Major later, and and played both beautifully. He commanded in the Schumann a formidable octave and staccato chord technique, and overlapped phrases with the damper pedal, occasionally holding back at the end of slow phrases.

In the penultimate variation (andante espressivo) he used left hand pedal point notes and produced a lovely vocal quality (tenor?) singing line, and in the lengthy final D Flat variation he played the two repeats. Here he pushed the tempo and piano volume to the instrument’s limits, but clearly Mr. Zhang sees the Etudes as a brawny work. The applause from the 110 in Schroeder was fulsome.

In the second half the artist sharply changed the program, dropping the ultra Romantic Liszt Harmonies du Soir and the Bartok Sonata, and instead of a Janacek work he began with two of Liszt’s Etudes Transcendals – Feux Follet (Will of the Wisp) and Chasse Neige (Snow Storm). Both received virtuoso performances, and Mr. Zhang seemed happiest with music that required lots of exceptional finger technique. Fast cross-hand double note playing characterized the first, and in the second he built a ferocious storm of volume with left-hand tremolos and impressive endurance.

Relief from the storms came with Janacek’s In the Mists, a four-movement 1912 work where Mr. Zhang produced veiled floating chords and subtle control of pianissimo. In the andantino the playing of the simple repeated theme was elegant. The music was enveloping melancholy.

Ginastera’s iconic First Sonata closed the program, a work from 1952 that expands on the insistent design of the Danzas Argentinas composed 15 years earlier. Mr. Zhang owns the piece, and gave it his expected roaring motor excitement. He brought out the jazz riffs and his double octaves spread way apart were thunderous and accurate, or at least they probably were in the sonic din of the final percussive toccata. Through all this ostinato playing the rhapsodic adagio was almost bucolic. I have not heard louder piano playing in Schroeder than the pianist produced in the Ginastera.

A standing ovation recalled the artist, and the solo encore was the Arkady Volodos transcription of Mozart’s K. 331 Rondo (“Alla Turca”). The transcription is a virtuoso stunt, and recalled Lang Lang’s encore carving of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” at the Weill Hall inaugural concert. At that recital the Classical Sonoma reviewer wrote of the encore being “deliciously tasteless.” Here the bombast wasn’t tasteful at all.

Lee Ormasa and Gerald Blodgett contributed to this review.