Thomas Pandolfi, Sept 27

By Richard Lyndethomas pandolfi

JOHN ORLANDO’S 31st Distinguished Artists Series opened last month in Santa Cruz at the Peace United Church with a passionate piano recital by Thomas Pandolfi in his “Classics with a touch of poetry” recital. Included were muscular Mozart, soulful Schubert, big Beethoven, and the many-sided Liszt—especially a dream of love and a huge wrestling match with the devil. Pandolfi’s program ended with a fantasy on Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.

Mozart’s Sonata in F major, K. 332 may be from the Classic period, but Pandolfi gave it a big, romantic reading using quite a bit of pedal, dramatic contrasts and unusual touches that were music to the ears of this reviewer and the large audience as well. Schubert’s early and beloved Impromptu in A-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 4 sandwiches a melodic, lyrical middle between two outer sections of quick finger skips, a robust reading that continued Pandolfi’s intensely moving and original style.

Beethoven’s ever–popular Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathétique,” from 1797, breaks the classical mold in its mysterious first movement, which Pandolfi explored like a forensicist; huge contrasts of slow, funereal sections followed by explosive smashings out of the tomb, long slow singing lines and a rondo finale in exaggerated but controlled contrasts of speed.

The idiosyncratic Liszt transcription of Schumann’s song Widmung (Dedication) shows off both composers. Liszt’s “improved” version, an ever more passionate plea for romantic love with Clara Wieck which Schumann is said to have penned as her wedding present. This was followed by Liszt’s ever-popular Liebestraum No. 3 in A-Flat Major (Dream of Love), originally intended to accompany a singer of poetry, but here the gorgeous melody sang out with ease for a delighted audience.

Then off on a trip to hell with Liszt’s “Dante” Sonata, like Beethoven’s “Moonlight,” a name that conjures up each listener’s own mental movie as it unfolds. Also called a “Fantasia quasi Sonata; After a reading of Dante,” it opens with the dissonant tritone, forbidden in music for centuries because of its supposed invocation of Satan. Here Liszt, a devout Catholic intent upon becoming a priest until as a young man he heard and saw the “diablerie” of Niccolo Paganini on the fiddle, was converted into attempting his match at the keyboard. He was both attacking and celebrating the devil in this piece, which Pandolfi gave a truly great reading. Its middle angelic chorale book-ended by the strident opening and closing, Pandolfi’s whole body was engaged in the thrashing and striving tumultuous energy under controlled fury. The big Yamaha provided an almost fathomless power for this mortal combat, emerging unscathed and triumphant (as did the pianist) while putting the devil back in hell—at least for a while—with a smooth “Perfect 5th “ conclusion.

The first encore was Pandolfi’s own take on Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, a Liszt-style paraphrase during which I could actually visualize Sarah Brightman (the composer’s ex-wife) singing on stage.

Concluding the generous and demanding recital was the ever-popular slow and simple Chopin Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2, his most famous, played with a lot of rubato amid the golden voicings of the Yamaha CFX concert grand, but by now a calming effect upon an enthusiastic audience, very attentive through the musical offerings of this strikingly original pianist from Washington, D.C. If only our US Congress could be half as effective as Maestro Pandolfi is.

Monterey Symphony Oct 18

By Scott MacClelland

IF SUNDAY’S PERFORMANCE at Sunset Center is any indication, the 70th anniversary season of the Monterey Symphony could set a new standard of quality. Max Bragado-Darman conducted an all-orchestral program that only got better as it unfolded. Moreover, it contained music that hasn’t been heard in the region for decades and included the Monterey Bay premiere of Shostakovich’s astonishing First Symphony.

In any set of three or more performances by an orchestra there is usually a peak where all the potential comes together. Arguably, this concert peaked on Sunday—though I was not there to hear the Friday and Saturday readings. In typical fashion, Bragado opened his season with the Star Spangled Banner, making many seniors in the audience struggle to get back on their feet again. This was followed by Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. The 10-minute orchestral scene recalls many of the familiar themes that Wagner called by the term “leitmotif,” a device that facilitated organizing the total 16 hours of the “Ring” cycle of music dramas. The piece starts in the bowels of the orchestra, swells in volume, gives way to a racing horseride, slows the pace and ends with a heroic series of crescendos. It also contains a challenging horn solo that represents Siegfried’s proclamation of himself as a fearless warrior ready to take on the world. The orchestra did likewise except for a couple of pesky cracked horn notes.

Then came Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration which here was a marvel. With its many long, widespread crescendos and decrescendos, it challenges a conductor in terms of both pacing and dynamics to make sure it doesn’t get too loud too soon, and vice versa. In this, Bragado held a deft hand on the reins while the orchestra gave him christina-mokone of its finest moments in recent memory. It deserved a standing ovation but possibly it was unfamiliar to many in the audience who, as a result, might not have understood the narrative program behind the music. Concertmaster Christina Mok (left) played her solos with consummate skill and compelling expression.

The Shostakovich symphony, composed when he was 19 and itself a marvel, almost overwhelms the senses and the mind with its riotous display. With so much going on, and a kaleidoscope of cameo solos and original sound combinations, a listener had to work harder than usual in order to stay in the moment. But the piece paid off when it revealed a variety of influences from other composers, some quite witty, woven into an unprecedented tapestry. There were solos for concertmaster, principal cello (at one point playing in duet), piano, trumpet, horn, many of the woodwinds, and even timpani. In a manner of speaking, this piece laid the foundation for the 14 symphonies to follow. Best of all, the performance caught fire right from the sarcastic trumpet theme from which the cheeky first movement was concocted.

The somber mood of the third movement begins the fourth, courtesy the snare drum, then heats up, goes through numerous mood changes, from dark to light, from brooding to sparkling, from anxious to a final burst of militant energy. This is when the standing ovation took place, slowly at first then widespread. One can only hope that Bragado will add more Strauss and Shostakovich to his Monterey Symphony repertoire.