Classical Music Reviews
Every week, our professional critics attend concerts throughout the Bay Area to let you know what went well...and occasionally what didn't. Let their insights enrich your musical experiences, and feel free to share your own views!
Friday evening’s concert by the Russian National Orchestra at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville was filled with pleasant surprises. Programming at summer festivals tends to be conservative, seldom straying from reliably popular, crowd-pleasing repertoire.
You'd think that nothing could steal the thunder from the likes of Frederica von Stade, Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway, and the Russian National Orchestra. But Friday the 13th brought a decidedly unmusical close to Festival del Sole's opening night in Napa. That the potential fiasco was handled with copious amounts of charm and grace shone a much-deserved light on the evening's unjustifiably shadowed conductor, Stéphane Denève.
The current Festival del Sole in the Napa Valley took a stellar leap forward Saturday evening with both the talent it featured and the place in which that talent was showcased. The ever-impressive countertenor David Daniels, the dazzling young soprano Danielle de Niese, and the redoubtable Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra with Nicholas McGegan were the talent, while the imposing new Castello di Amorosa. a winery-cum-castle set amid the hills and vineyards of the upper Napa Valley near Calistoga, was the monumental site. It was a concert to be savored and long remembered.
Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a brilliant comic opera filled with both melancholy and satire. La Cenerentola is also a fairy-tale girl who bursts into the spotlight. And for San Francisco right now, Daniela Mack has become the Cinderella girl with the glass slippers. Never mind that when Rossini modernized Charles Perrault’s old version for his libretto, those slippers became matching bracelets. Mack, the vocal princess, is pure sparkle.
Another weekend in July brought yet another summer festival to a close, with the final concert on Sunday afternoon of the Green Music Festival at Sonoma State University, in Rohnert Park. Artistic Director Jeffrey Kahane balances this festival, now in its eighth year, with a blend of regularly returning performers and new guest artists. For last weekend's final chamber music event, Kahane himself took the bench at the piano, alongside festival favorites Chee-Yun (on violin), Jon Kimura Parker (piano), Alisa Weilerstein (cello), and Aloysia Friedmann (viola).
Sunday's matinee performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, a feature of the 70th anniversary season of the Carmel Bach Festival, memorialized Sandor Salgo. In doing so, Music Director Bruno Weil demonstrated a lack of insight into the great work's dramatic arch — the very insight Salgo was famous for during his long tenure at this festival's helm.
Music festivals, whether of the mini or maxi kind, invite audiences to think of music as part of an entire experience. For most of the year, we're content just to hear a concert. But the summer festival experience is also partly about location and lingering twilight. In this, American Bach Soloists holds a few cards that make its SummerFest programs irresistible, beyond the superior concerts that are the main reason for attending. The little St. Stephen's Church, nestled into a hillside near the bay in Belvedere, hosts ABS throughout its season.
The German composer Hans Werner Henze, considered one of Europe's major composers of the '60s, '70s, and beyond, rarely gets a hearing in the U.S. One fan, however, will not take this neglect (is it simply old-hattedness?) lying down. Instead, the founder of the Worn Ensemble, Richard Worn, has organized all-Henze concerts to reenlighten the Bay Area as to the merits of this artist.