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Press Reviews

Alex McDonald’s an archetypal American pianist: great technique, spacious sound, easy accommodation of different musical styles. He drew out some pretty colors in “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este” from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage and invested Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor with gravitas and heft.

Kristian Lee, Ft. Worth Weekly

 

Alex McDonald had fire and brimstone bouncing off the walls…McDonald handled Liszt’s dense layering of notes with breathtaking fury, that included recoloring the normal chord sonorities by sustaining them for several bars at a time, with dramatic fluency…His control of the chromatic wailing and intensifying lamentation was exciting and as electrically charged as any fire pit Lucifer could imagine.

Harold Duckett, Knoxville News-Sentinel

 

As the hometown native, Alex McDonald had his support group in attendance and they gave him a rousing ovation as he walked on the stage for Phase II of the prelims. His earlier appearance was quite good and his name is on many short lists to advance (no one knows who is on the judges list). He played an exhausting program that ended with the most taxing piece of all. Still, he turned in a wonderful performance, with some truly remarkable moments, that validated the trust many have in him.

He opened with two contrasting pieces from Ravel’s Miroirs, a suite from solo piano that also has a robust life as an orchestral work. The first is Oiseaux tristes (Sad birds). Actually, it is only one bird, but he (maybe she) is indeed very sad as you can tell by the mournful tune. This selection allowed McDonald to hush the audience because of the single note that opens the work—it was very effective. The big cadenza was equally impressive, as was McDonald’s ability to return to the mood of the opening.

The next selection was Alborada del gracioso, a Spanish dance with complicated rhythms and great technical demands. McDonald resisted the temptation to take this movement lickity-split and possibly lose the dance qualities of the music. He wisely avoided the overuse of the sustaining pedal so that all of the staccato playing clicked like castanets. In the pseudo-recitative passage, McDonald played it with such understanding that you couldn’t help but wonder if he made up his own words to the passage. (If so, wouldn’t you love to know what they were?) He used a great deal of sustaining pedal here, which allowed him to meld the harmonic colors. Otherwise, his technical playing was very clean, as we have come to expect from this artist, and full of power when needed.

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, Theater Jones

 

…McDonald was at his best in the Liszt sonata. This is a piece that many of us have to endure. It is usually played with bang-bang ham-handed overzealousness trying to make as much sound as possible (as if that is laudable). The melodic parts usually become saccharine indulgences. McDonald turned it into a great piece of music right before our eyes, like a magician making a dove out of a handkerchief.

It took him a few measures to get the feel of the piano and the size of the octaves and he wisely took it easy until he felt comfortable. Liszt is all about flashing octaves, and by the end of the sonata, his hands were a blur and his accuracy was at 100 percent. Actually, he threw caution to the wind in this performance, taking chances at every turn, but he didn’t ever overplay the instrument. There is a moment near the end where there are the signature chords, low in the range of the keyboard marked triple forte. This is usually played in such a manner as to be in danger of breaking a string. McDonald played it with maximum force, but the sound he elicited was full and rich without a hint of overplayed twang. Even more impressive was the next appearance of this motive, just a few measures later. Here, they are marked only double forte and usually played much the same.

McDonald pulled them back just enough to make the contrast without losing the drama. He also carefully parsed the tempo at the end, because it starts but then gets constantly faster. Start it to fast and you end up in trouble. McDonald hit it exactly right.

This was a magnificent performance of the Liszt. After the performance, I got a phone message from a famous piano teacher who resides on the west coast and had watched the live stream. She said it was the single best performance of the sonata she has ever heard. High praise indeed.

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, Theater Jones

 

American Alex McDonald… began with a performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 32 that was sheer joy. His consistently excellent (and varied) program also included a winning Les Jeux d’Eaux a la Villa d’este by Liszt (a work for the person who doesn’t like Liszt), a majestic Chopin Nocturne in C minor, and a dazzling Three Movements from Petrouchka by Stravinsky.

Olin Chism, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

 

McDonald launched the evening program with an easy-going Haydn Sonata, rounding off all his notes beautifully – a feat that sounds deceptively easy as long as you’re not the one performing… He chose a repertoire with a slow, but steady buildup to his Stravinsky finale. At least the climax was ultimately satisfying, and the crowd rewarded this payoff by giving McDonald the first standing ovation since the screening auditions began.

 

Carol Shih, D Magazine Blog

 

He started out with an assertive performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 32. His touch was a little heavy for Haydn but served him well in his final selection, a thrillingly muscular rendition of Three Movements from Petrouchka by Stravinsky. In between, he played a note perfect rendition of Les Jeux d’Eaux a la Villa d’Este by Liszt and Chopin’s showy Nocturne in C minor. There was a larger audience in attendance that earlier in the competition and McDonald wowed them. The Stravinsky is a real virtuoso showpiece, we will certainly hear it again in the final competition, and he gave it a truly wonderful performance without mussing a single hair out of place. The audience reacted with cheers and the first standing ovation of the preliminaries.

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, Theater Jones

 

…Alex McDonald offered a persuasive (and physically restrained) version of the B Minor Sonata – hallelujah! …Mr. McDonald followed with Takemitsu’s Raintree Sketch II – an ingenious touch – and it seemed to wash the blood, sweat, and tears from the stage. Ravel’s “Oiseaux tristes” in his other round was also beautiful. When he spoke he was philosophical, almost professorial – all very good, but there did not seem to be any particular hunger to win. He is an artist with a mature perspective and much to offer.

Rorianne Schrade, New York Concert Review, Inc

 

Dallasite Alex McDonald…found a narrative, often sensuous quality… like a tale told around a campfire—that was further enlivened by McDonald’s natural charisma.

Wayne Lee Gay, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

 

…Rich, confident tone… McDonald never let his dynamics get out of hand, creating thundering cascades of sound whenever a cadenza demanded it, yet knowing exactly how to milk silence to highlight a single, exquisite note. His articulation was clear, his sense of the orchestration impressive, and the Waco Hall audience gave him a standing ovation.

Carl Hoover, Waco-Tribune Herald

 

McDonald is a wonderful pianist and he put passion and fire into his performance of Liszt’s A major concerto. Particularly delightful was his duet with the [Utah State] symphony’s principal cellist Ryan Selberg…. The audience members who attended… were richly rewarded.

Edward Reichel, Deseret News

 

McDonald exhibited a full gamut of technique and musicianship. His performance…was consistent in quality and virtuosity. What was most extraordinary about his performance was his superlative handling of midrange dynamics.

Jeff Manookian, Salt Lake Tribune
Alex McDonald… is an impressive talent. He loves the tender poetry of Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” sonata and Liszt’s “Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104”, but he has remarkably fast fingers too, and lots of firepower for the blazing octaves…

James Roos, Miami Herald
McDonald brought controlled power to passages of motor rhythms and in quiet moments, showed how silences and sprays of notes could be equally propulsive.

Chris Waddington, Nola.com
…  this Texan conjured gorgeous sounds in a pair of selections from Ravel’s “Miroirs”. Even at the slowest tempos, he sustained a rich, singing line in “Oiseaux Tristes.” In “Alboada del Gracioso,” he etched complex rhythms that shifted between swaying Spanish themes and music hall two-beats. His gift for rhythm also enlivened an account of Haydn’s “Sonata No. 47”.

Chris Waddington, Nola.com