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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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, November 03, 2017
Marinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, conductor. Denis Matsuev, piano

Conductor Valery Gergiev

TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE

by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017

Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine orchestra. On this day it was the legendary Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg, under the baton of international star Valery Gergiev. Qualms were put to rest at the outset.

The answer for a paltry audience of 500 was joy and a huge ovation at the conclusion of Prokofiev’s G Minor (No. 2, Op. 16) Concerto. This work was absent from programs for many years, though the wonderful Jorge Bolet championed it and recently Yuja Wang has taken it up. The technical demands for the pianist, especially in the first movement cadenza but also throughout, are ferocious, and stamina is needed as well as speed and instrumental volume. Mr. Matsuev didn’t shy away from an immense and raucous sound, and he nailed the breakneck right hand skips and thunderous repeated bass chords with seeming ease. But certainly it wasn’t an easy matter to not be covered by the 75-piece Russian orchestra playing at full tilt. A different part of the artist’s technique was evident when he captured a far away mystical and faint sound at the reappearance in the coda of the work’s first theme.

In the scherzo’s perpetuam mobile and the intermezzo his playing was seldom below a mezzo forte, though the Orchestra’s low string sound was always husky. Mr. Matsuev uses shoulder and arm weight and ample but quick damper pedal to underscore the composer’s driving rhythms and deft references to parts of the First Concerto, written when a student and about a decade prior to the G Minor. The finale was more of the same thick and dense sound, rolling along at a fast clip of formidable virtuosity. He seems happiest when the music needs fleet fingers. Mr. Gergiev’s conducting faultlessly followed every demand in the score, and the Orchestra had the right blend of Prokofiev’s motoric momentum and raw dissonance.

Recalled to the stage Mr. Matsuev played as an encore a parched and super fast finale (allegretto) to Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2.

Following intermission was the highlight of the evening, an amazing reading by Mr. Gergiev of Strauss’ turn-of-the-20th-Century tone poem Ein Heldenleben. Op. 40. From the opening chord growl of the bass and cello sections, the sound driving Weill’s mellow wood surfaces to perfection, the playing made it clear that a special musical event was to unfold.

Tempos in the five sections were brisk with section clarity brilliantly showcased, so different from the Concerto. Mr. Gergiev’s famous conducting technique with fluttering hands and seemingly awkward movements around a nonexistent podium, is sharply different from the “control” approach of conductors such as Bruno Ferrandis, Michael Tilson Thomas and Alan Gilbert. But make no mistake, control he has, and he crafted an orchestral fabric of great beauty and intense communication.

It’s impossible to single out the ensemble’s principals in the Strauss, as no names were in the printed program, and there was no identification in the Mariinsky’s Russian websites. However, I would be remiss not mention the concertmaster’s soaring solos; the elegant and commanding oboe, clarinet, flute and bassoon playing; and the superb unisons in the horn and trombone sections. Mr. Gergiev paid little attention to extended romantic ritards, preferring to use perfectly placed cutoffs to underscore drama, especially in the Hero at Battle section. The final ascending phrases in the solo violin were elegantly shaped by the conductor, and the long fermata that ended the 42-minute work that for me could have gone on for minutes.

This Ein Heldenleben was a champagne orgy of orchestra sound, perhaps surpassing even the glorious concerts in Weill years ago of the Russian National Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic.

The tumultuous applause produced an encore, a short brassy fanfare from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin.

Shostakovich’s E-Flat Major Symphony, Op. 70, opened the program and quickly disclosed the Mariinsky’s virtuosity. This Haydnesque Symphony is not to everyone’s taste, and some find it frivolous and overly brittle. I found the performance marvelous, the music fitting the St. Petersburg forces like an old shoe. The orchestra played it with great fervor and panache. Piccolo and flute playing was exemplary, as was cohesion in the upper strings. And the string mass, with second violins stage left, was rich and commanding.