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Top 10 Concerts of 2010

December 27, 2010

Bryn Terfel Recital, Nov. 20

In an era when the visual image reigns supreme, vocal recitals have become an increasingly hard sell. But Bryn Terfel’s recital for Cal Performances was a potent reminder of the genre’s power. Accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau, the great Welsh bass-baritone sang Schumann’s Liederkreis, songs by Finzi and Ibert, and a tribute to John Charles Thomas; in each, he managed to create an atmosphere of gripping, operatic intensity. (G.R.)

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Die Walküre, June 10

The San Francisco Opera unveiled the second episode in its new Ring cycle and it was a stunner. Staged by Francesca Zambello, conducted by Donald Runnicles, and featuring a splendid cast led by Mark Delavan in his second assignment as Wotan, the performance augured well for the future: expect a transcendent Wagnerian experience when the company mounts the complete cycle in 2011. (G.R.)

Beowulf, Benjamin Bagby, Oct. 27

Early music specialist Benjamin Bagby, armed with nothing more than his voice and a medieval harp, conjured the world of the 11th-century, Anglo-Saxon epic in this rare Cal Performances presentation. Reconstructed by Bagby from historical texts, the one-man show was a tour de force: authentic, dramatic, mesmerizing, and unforgettable. (G.R.)

San Francisco Symphony/John Adams, Dec. 1-12

The San Francisco Symphony’s long association with composer John Adams yielded three outstanding programs in December. Presented as part of the Symphony’s Project San Francisco, the events began with Adams conducting his glorious nativity oratorio, El Nino; the following week, Michael Tilson Thomas led a brilliant performance of Adams’ Harmonielehre. The trio of programs concluded with an afternoon of chamber works, topped by the St. Lawrence String Quartet’s blazing traversal of the String Quartet (2008). If anyone doubted Adams’ enduring place in the repertoire, these were performances to convince you otherwise. (G.R.)

I second G.R.'s picks of Harmonielehre and the String Quartet. At the orchestral concert, conducted by MTT, I also found Gil Shaham's traversal of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 masterful. Shaham danced his way through the performance, seducing with a host of expressive gestures and shining tone. (J.V.S.)

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s All-Bach program, Oct. 15

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra presented another characteristically brilliant, wonderfully varied fall season this year, but one concert stood out: the all-Bach program featuring Danish conductor and harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen. With Mortensen leading from the harpsichord, and Swedish soprano Maria Keohane as vocal soloist, the early music ensemble’s performance of Bach’s Wedding Cantata assumed a majesty and luster seldom heard on Bay Area stages. (G.R.)

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Xerxes, Berkeley West Edge Opera, Nov. 21

With its new name and excellent new venue, Berkeley West Edge Opera (formerly Berkeley Opera) made the transition to a new era with considerable allure. The season reached its zenith late in the fall with a witty, charming, and beautifully sung production of Handel’s Xerxes, directed by artistic director Mark Streshinsky and conducted by Alan Curtis. (G.R.)

The Makropulos Case, San Francisco Opera, Nov. 10-28

Playing a supremely self-absorbed 337-year-old woman, Karita Mattila dazzled vocally and physically. In addition to her voice's wonderfully creamy midrange and shimmering top, her slew of facial expressions and gestures — from a frequently rotating ankle to ballet-like splits — were mesmerizing. Mattila was divine. And the supporting cast, orchestra, and production were superb. (J.V.S)

Miró Quartet, [email protected] Aug. 5

Multiple experiences with the Miró Quartet at last summer’s [email protected] confirmed their excellence. Textures were optimally transparent in Edward Elgar’s gorgeous Piano Quintet in A Minor, and the balance with Inon Barnatan’s wonderful pianism was impeccable. Their performance of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 was beautifully played, and equally moving. I can’t wait to hear them again at Music at Kohl Mansion on January 23. (J.V.S.)

Adler Fellows Gala Concert, Dec.1

Portions of the Adler Fellows Gala Concert blew me away. Mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani seared the audience with her Dalila and Carmen. Soprano Leah Crocetto delivered an astounding high E-flat at the end of “Sempre libera” from Verdi’s La traviata, and a passionate climax in her duet from Rossini’s William Tell that rivaled any soprano on record. When she gets to the Met and La Scala, the whole world will know how lucky we are to have her in the Adler program for one more year. Soprano Susannah Biller’s Mad Scene from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet was as visually riveting as it was musically superb. (J.V.S.)

Chanticleer, Dec. 9-23

Chanticleer’s annual Christmas concert confirmed their pre-eminence among male vocal ensembles. The current blend is one of the warmest in memory, with clarity and roundness of tone trumping excessive sweetness. The singing was exquisite, the sound so beautiful that all you could do was close your eyes and bathe in the glow. Chanticleer continues strong under new Music Director Matt Oltman. (J.V.S.)

Georgia Rowe is a Bay Area arts writer. Her work has appeared in Opera News, Gramophone, The San Jose Mercury News, The Oakland Tribune, The San Francisco Examiner, and The Contra Costa Times.

Jason Victor Serinus writes about music for Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, San Francisco Magazine, Muso, Carnegie Hall Playbill, East Bay Express, East Bay Monthly, San Francisco Examiner, Bay Area Reporter, hometheaterhifi.com, and other publications.