David Bratman is a librarian who lives with his lawfully wedded soprano and a wall full of symphony recordings.
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The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra likes varied and unusual programs. Saturday's free concert at St. Mark's Church in Palo Alto was perhaps a little more unusual than most. The program, led by SFCO Music Director Benjamin Simon, featured two clarinet concertos and a handbell concerto, and the shortest piece was by Gustav Mahler, a composer not noted for brevity. The unsuspecting composer of the handbell concerto was Johann Christian Bach, the son of Johann Sebastian who moved to London and wrote elegant, courtly music that influenced the young Mozart.
The battle of the musicologists broke out on Friday afternoon in Stanford University's Campbell Recital Hall. Joseph Horowitz, noted author of several books on the history of classical music in America, played a 1932 recording of Leopold Stokowski conducting the slow movement of Beethoven's Fifth. Horowitz described the performance as transformed from "Beethoven's Andante" into "Stokowski's Adagio," not only for being played unusually slowly but also for added pedal points, distinctive string sonority, and other changes. He found the result very attractive.
Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony — the dark, somber one in a weird key (F-sharp minor), which ends with the musicians quietly leaving the stage by ones and twos, until only a pair of violinists are left to finish the piece — is the perfect work to serve as a metaphor for the end of a questionable year. So what happens when it's performed on New Year's Day instead of New Year's Eve, and the order of the repertoire is changed so that it no longer concludes the program?
The Romantic era in music is not dead. The Paris Piano Trio brought it, alive and kicking, to Kohl Mansion in Burlingame on Sunday. The ensemble's three noted performers, each one a distinguished professor at the Paris Conservatory, have been playing together for decades, and in recent years have been making a priority of touring with the repertoire for piano, violin, and cello.
I confess that I had not heard of the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra until I learned of the concert with which it opened its third season on Saturday. But it was a honey of a program that I wouldn't have missed for anything. The result was warm and delicious: two cold and austere Northern string orchestra works by Jean Sibelius and Pēteris Vasks rendered rich and resonant in the reverberant acoustics of Santa Cruz' Holy Cross Church, plus the comforting familiarity of Dvořák's Serenade for Strings.
The Rose of Persia, currently being performed by Lyric Theatre at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose, was originally produced in 1899. It was probably the most successful operetta penned by Sir Arthur Sullivan after his collaboration with W.S. Gilbert. The libretto and lyrics are by one Captain Basil Hood, who did his darndest to serve up a Gilbertian pastiche.
In its three years of existence, the Escher String Quartet has built a reputation as a highly intellectual ensemble of mechanical perfection but one that, at its worst, plays aridly without genuine emotion. However accurate that portrait may be, the quartet indulged that reputation when selecting the program for its concert on Sunday at Le Petit Trianon, in the San Jose Chamber Music Society concert series. All four works feature a fugue, that famously intellectually arid compositional form, in their finales.
Last week was “The Romantic Generation” week at [email protected], and by the Romantic generation they mean Middle European Romantics. The music on the main concert program, which I heard on Monday at St. Mark’s Church in Palo Alto, was by Johannes Brahms and the two greatest of his close associates, Robert Schumann and Antonín Dvořák, with a slight ringer in the form of a small contribution from Hugo Wolf.
Whatever work that Music Director Marin Alsop decides to program at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, you know it will at least be interesting and intellectually provocative. Whether it's beautiful or ultimately satisfying is more subjective, but I found Saturday's "Triple Play" concert fairly successful on those counts, as well. The musicians, under Alsop's confident direction, sounded articulately and passionately committed to the music.
The best thing about the Carmel Bach Festival, besides that it's in Carmel, is that, as Calvin used to say to Hobbes, "The days are just packed." Except that, unlike Calvin's day, one at the festival really is packed. In 11 hours in town last Thursday, I attended two concerts, a preconcert lecture, a Q & A session, and a vocal master class, leaving time for a two-hour dinner break. Walking briskly between venues four or five blocks apart is good exercise.
The Dutch language is closely related to Low German, but for at least the past two centuries the Netherlands' cultural relations have been as close with France as with any other country. (Vincent van Gogh, after all, went to France to paint.) So it's quite appropriate that the first of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's programs at Davies Symphony Hall, performed on Sunday, should consist of French music. And as the Concertgebouw Orchestra is the greatest and most renowned of Dutch ensembles, it chose to play what are perhaps the two greatest and most renowned of French symphonies.
Stanford's Dinkelspiel Auditorium is not a large hall, but the St. Lawrence String Quartet played there on Sunday afternoon with a sense of intimacy worthy of a far smaller venue. Not that it couldn't be heard, or anything like that. The nearly full audience hung on every note. But the quartet proved that there are other ways to provide an exciting and moving chamber music concert than by letting all the stops out.