CD ReviewsSCARLATTI Recreated
RUSSIAN GEMS Piano Rarities
Recital at the “Sala dei Notari” in Perugia, Italy, May 08, 2013
The Sala dei Notari is backdrop for harmonious notes of Sandro Russo.
PERUGIA – A more beautiful than ever Sala dei Notari was the perfect frame for the “essential” and “pure” notes of pianist Sandro Russo. The concert, a unique event, conceived by the president of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Perugia, Carlo Colaiacovo, and organized by that organization, paid homage to the city by presenting this sublime performance by the renowned pianist. To mark the occasion, Mr. Russo performed works by Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and Balakirev, confirming once again his extraordinary ability to explore the more obscure works of the piano literature, and perhaps the more challenging ones as well.
A regular guest artist in Asian and European concert series, Mr. Russo has received various accolades, including those from the New York Council on the Arts, for his brilliant successes in the United States, where he has resided for several years. And the other evening didn’t lack emotions either. In his musical wanderings from Beethoven to Rachmaninoff, one ultimately could perceive through all those ever-changing musical moods, a unique, tangible modernism. Interwoven threads of onomatopoetic references and obsessive rhythms increasingly revealed musical tendencies for reiteration, i.e., the repetition of certain thematic cells that are very much loved, especially in the case of Rachmaninoff. Raging atmospheres, at times desolate, are only a “touch,” a taste of the infinite, expressive universe of this great interpreter that America by now has made its own.
Francesco Castellini, “Giornale dell’Umbria” May 10, 2013
Recital for the “Sherman Historical Society,” May 2010
Italian Piano Virtuoso, Sandro Russo, Transforms Northrop House into World-Class Concert Hall.
At the invitation of the Sherman Historical Society (SHS), concert-pianist Sandro Russo transformed the parlor of the Northrop House Museum on Friday evening, May 7, into a world-class concert hall with his flawlessly performed renditions of piano works ranging from Beethoven to contemporary composer, Lowell Liebermann. Seated in the two parlors, the audience rewarded the deeply lyrical performance with a standing ovation.
Hildegard M. Grob, “The Sherman Sentinel” May 19, 2010
Recital for “Concerts Grand” in Santa Rosa, CA, April 18, 2010
Russo Scorches Newman Auditorium in Season Finale Recital.
Spring thunder from sunny Italy was the order of the day April 18 when Sicilian pianist Sandro Russo closed the seventh Concerts Grand season with a dramatic recital at Santa Rosa Junior College.
In an 80-minute program before a Newman Auditorium audience of 120 Mr. Russo disdained the usual opening works of Scarlatti and Mozart and launched into a powerful rendering of Liszt’s magnificent “Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Sagen,” based on a Bach Cantata first heard in April, 1714. The title can be translated as “Weeping, Lamenting, Worry and Apprehension” and Mr. Russo’s imposing interpretation brought out the works majesty as well as its infinite sorrow. His running left-hand octave playing was masterly and the often judicious tempos let air into the work. There was reconciliation in the chorale where grief is overcome.
If the Liszt might could be about conquering adversity, Beethoven’s F Minor Sonata (“Appassionata”) is surely about it. With memorable past Newman performances by Joseph Banowetz and the mercurial Valentina Lisitsa, Mr. Russo had a mountain to climb in a sonata the composer was said to have liked above all others. The difficult articulation problems in the opening Allegro assai were handled with ease and Mr. Russo had the requisite speed and large tone in the second subject. The short set of variations comprising the second movement were lovingly set out, the artist in no hurry to get anywhere.
Recently pianists (e. g., Schiff, Fellner, Biss) have been playing the Sonata and especially the concluding Allegro ma non troppo is an “architectural” style, emphasizing structure and inner thematic relationships over passion. Mr. Russo would have none of this, seizing the emotional drive and sweep of the movement and bringing the audience to its feet with the final fortissimo chords. The piano would have been hot to the touch as he left the stage amid cheers.
Following intermission Lowell Liebermann’s haunting Nocturne No. 8 (2004) was given, and Mr. Russo knows these pieces (there are now 11 Nocturnes) through careful study and his own premiere of the Nocturne No. 10. The eighth is haunting, the menacing quality set against short lyrical passages. Mr. Russo’s interpretation has changed since I heard him play it in 2004, now less explosive in the big crashes of sound in measures 123 and 124, emphasizing more the mysterious nature of the writing. Is anyone writing nocturne-like works with such sonic interest as Mr. Liebermann?
The formal program concluded with Schumann’s eight-movement Kreisleriana, Op. 16. It is a difficult work to hold together, with many da capo forms of various moods. Mr. Russo approached each with care, especially in the Sehr langsam where his tonal control was exquisite. The entire performance exhibited a controlled rotation and double-note legato technique, glowing cantilena in the Sehr aufgeregt with the final conception lacking perhaps only the last portion of introspection.
The ending of the Schumann caused some confusion in the hall as the program, printed eight months ago, showed it as the last work. People were preparing to leave but fortunately Mr. Russo was in a generous mood and capped the recital and season in a driving and ultimately sensational performance of Balakirev’s Oriental Fantasy “Islamey.” Considered one of the most difficult works in the standard piano repertoire, Mr. Russo’s whirlwind of repeated notes, large right-hand skips and a dollop on bombast were equal to the score’s demands. Those in the first row were a little scorched by what one listener called a “Vesuvius” of sound, but that’s what you get with a great “Islamey” performance. There was no encore offered or needed.
Sandro Russo’s recital was on balance the most virtuosic playing heard in Santa Rosa since the Bronfman, Ohlsson and Nakamatsu concerts of three years ago and was a forceful capstone to the nine-recital Concerts Grand season.
“Classical Sonoma” April 18, 2010
Recital for the “Mostly Music Chicago,” October 2008
…Sandro Russo served up a satisfying meal made up mostly of transcriptions. It included the world-premiere performance of Vladimir Leyetchkiss’ transcriptions of two movements from Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Suite for Two Pianos. Russo displayed all the work’s harmonic warmth in an agile and forceful performance of the Waltz and the Romance. Leyetchkiss, who was in the audience, was very delighted with Russo’s handling of the piece….His serenity and confidence made for a reading of the Feinberg Largo from the Bach Trio Sonata for Organ no. 5 that was both collected and affectionate….But Russo’s showcase moment was Liszt’s “Reminiscences de Don Juan” based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Russo drew out all the heart-pounding intensity and had the floor shaking.
M.L. Rantala, “Hyde Park Herald” October 8, 2008
Recital for the “Tiro a Segno Foundation,” NYC, March 2008
…Pianist Sandro Russo sent the crowd wild caressing and attacking the keys – in accordance with the interpretive demands – performing Chopin, Liszt, and a contemporary work by M.A. Hamelin with passionate vehemence and perfect aplomb. Hamelin’s magnificent Etude on Rossini’s “La Danza” evoked a desire for “Tarantella” in the audience.
“America Oggi” March 15, 2008
Recital for the “American Liszt Society,” November 2007
…Sandro was first introduced to the ALS community at the San Francisco ALS Festival in March 2007, where he stunned everyone with his unique and ultra-virtuosic playing. His New York performance, which presented both well-known and lesser-known works, was just as incredible.
American Liszt Society Journal, Winter/Spring 2008 Issue
Steinway Hall Recital for the “Rachmaninoff Recreated Retreat,” NYC 2007
Sandro Russo performed Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Sonata with great panache. Clothed in elegant black attire, he deferentially announced some of his own revisions in the first and third movements. The music was executed with great polish and confidence. From my personal perspective, Mr Russo sound world incorporated a mix of lush Chopinesque subtlety, Lisztian command, and Mozartian elegance.
Charles Frederick Frantz, Ph.D (http://www.rachmaninoff.org/news/news.html)
Amsterdam Recital at the International Rachmaninoff Conference, 2006
After dinner came Sandro Russo. I could give a few facts about this phenomenon: a pianist of about my age, born in Italy and based in New York. I could also tell you what an elegant figure he cuts on stage, and how the music seems to possess him utterly as he plays, so that it ends up written on his face, on his every gesture. But as for the sound, the passion, the daring, well, that’s harder to convey in mere words. He began with a solo group of three works, each more concentrated than the last. His performances of the Grieg Ballade and Rachmaninoff’s Etude-tableau Op. 39 No. 5 were utterly ravishing and at times shockingly intense. But his transcendental account of Taneyev’s Prelude and Fugue simply left nothing to be said. It was unreal; you just had to be there.
Bahman Barekat, The Rachmaninoff Society Newsletter, June 2006
Recital at Teatro Ghione in Rome, Italy (February 2006.)
An unusually interesting programme, and played with remarkable artistry.
An extraordinary sense of colour combined with a real technique, in the sense that he could transmit the most varied sounds as his great sense of intelligent musicality demanded.
I am sure this is just the start of a long and very interesting career and we look forward to hearing more from this very out of the ordinary artist.
Christopher Axworthy, ARAM
London Recital for the “Rachmaninoff Society” (May 2005)
There was an exceptional performance of the Corelli Variations given by the Italian pianist Sandro Russo. Mr. Russo has won top prizes in numerous international competitions and, in this performance, it was clear to all of us how this came about: a complete understanding of this remarkable Op. 42 and a near flawless technique to match. He also played Medtner’s Tale Op. 8 No. 2 and ended with some staggering piano playing, of which the Flight of the Bumblebee, in the arrangement by Gyorgy Cziffra, practically brought the house down!
Willem Scholtz, The Rachmaninoff Society Newsletter, June 2005
Concert Review by Gayle Martin Henry, President Connecticut Alliance for Music (Oct. 2004)
Last Sunday, the Italian pianist Sandro Russo played an extraordinary and varied recital presented by Connected Alliance for Music in Greenwich, Connecticut. Even in today’s world where audiences are not surprised by virtuosic feats, Russo’s ability to unravel the thorniest passages with the utmost ease and clarity is astonishing. But what truly sets him apart is his ability to find the poetry within everything he plays.
From the first elegant turned phrase of the Haydn Sonata in A-flat Major, Hob. XVI:46, to the insistent and wildly difficult octave patterns of the Alkan Symphony Opus 39, Russo showed himself to be in total command as a pianist, a musician and a poet. His sound is never harsh; his love of counterpoint is evident. His performance of the Liszt Etude “Feux Follets,” infamous for its hair-rising difficulty, was a study of breathtaking lightness and fancy. He went straight to the heart of the Nocturne No. 5, Opus 55 (1996) by Lowell Liebermann and communicated it with great and persuasive sensitivity. And I cannot imagine that I will ever hear the concert paraphrase of “The Marines’ Hymn” by Offenbach-Gimpel played with such a rollicking ease and grace, exactly capturing the pride and spirit of the song of the soldiers.
Recital at The Union Church of Bay Ridge–Brooklyn (September 2004)
On Sunday afternoon, September 26, The Union Church concert series resumed with a spectacular piano recital by Sandro Russo. Mr. Russo succeeded in plumbing and realizing the various moods and compositional depths of Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli.” He made the many introspective moments in this extended work sound fresh and spontaneous, as though they were being composed right then and there, the way the composer-pianist himself used to do. The lively Finale from the Symphony in Alkan’s twelve Etudes in the minor keys, op. 39, provided a brilliant, indeed “symphonic,” conclusion to the program’s first half. Then Mr. Russo’s impressive ability as a “tone-and mood-painter” with the pianoforte came to the fore in Liszt’s “Feux follets” (Transcendental Etude no. 5) as well as “El Puerto and Triana” from Albeniz’s Iberia. The various hues in these works dazzled the ears.
Next we heard a pair of nocturnes from 1921 to 1996. First was the gorgeous, seldom performed Nocturne in B minor (Op. 119, no. 13) by Fauré, whose lyrical, heart-rending melodies were played with just the right legato. Second, Lowell Liebermann’s Nocturne no. 5, op. 55, Russo showed his mastery of its many contrasting, intimate moods – often with a full range of dynamic shadings, including a ravishingly controlled pianissimo.
Mr. Russo’s easy yet thrilling virtuosity – with its nimble finger dexterity and enormous, controlled dynamic range – came to the fore in several of the selections, particularly the Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Liszt, and Liebermann. And the attentive Union Church audience leaped to its feet with calls of “bravissimo” after Russo’s closing rendition of the dashing Offenbach-Gimpel paraphrase on “The Marines’ Hymn,” with its many quick changes of register and ear-tickling glissandi. By then no one in attendance had any doubts that Russo is indeed a sensitive pianist of the first rank.
Prof. Bruce MacIntyre, to The Kings-Courier, Brooklyn, NY.
Recital for “The Leshetizky Association” in New York City (February 2004)
His recital displayed a most interesting selection of pieces that showed off his splendid technique and innate musicality. His command of the piano is on par with and world-class artist and he informs his playing with a love of music and the piano that is at once engaging and inspiring. He represents the highest standard of piano playing and the standard of the Leshetizky Association at its best.
Mara Waldman, President of The Leschetizky Association
Recital at “Nuove Carriere” Music Festival in Palermo, Italy (November 2002)
“Chopin according to Russo.”
There was subtle pianoforte playing Thursday evening at the Ss. Salvatore auditorium in Palermo by Sandro Russo, who made his appearance for “Nuove Carriere” presenting a program of rare piano transcriptions, which also included Chopin’s Variations Brillantes Op.12, and the Polonaise Fantasie Op.61.
The young Sicilian-born pianist who currently lives in New York, projects crystalline clarity in sonorities, and transparency of sound, which, however, did not lack moments of extreme intensity. He displayed a propensity for intimacy, meticulousness, and a soaring acrobatic virtuosity in the Flight of the Bumblebee arranged by Gyorgy Cziffra.
Sara Patera, “Giornale di Sicilia”