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!


Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San José Chamber Orchestra  Shaking Hands With the Past
January 10, 2010

Sunday was string quartet night at the San José Chamber Orchestra’s concert, conducted by Barbara Day Turner, at Le Petit Trianon in its namesake city. The Cypress String Quartet played as guest soloists in the premiere of Pablo Furman’s Paso del Fuego, and the SJCO ceded the entire stage to the Cypress foursome for the first half of the concert, which consisted of Beethoven’s Quartet in F, Op. 135.

But before we get to the Beethoven, let me tell you about the premieres: two of them.

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Recital REVIEW
 Cal Performances Garrick Ohlsson A Master at Play in the Fields of Chopin
January 10, 2010

Garrick Ohlsson’s credentials as an interpreter of Frédéric Chopin — he has recorded the complete works, twice — place him in the top echelon of modern pianists. Many performers possess the technical prowess and power to treat the piano as a slave and to do pretty much as they please to the music. Ohlsson’s all-Chopin recital Sunday afternoon, sponsored by Cal Performances and celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, went beyond virtuosity and paid the deepest respect to our greatest “poet of the piano.”

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  The Clinch Connection
January 9, 2010

The Jan. 7-10 San Francisco Symphony concerts were studies in orchestral transformation. What the relatively short program of an hour and 45 minutes, conducted by David Robertson at Flint Center and Davies Symphony Hall, lacked in intensity, it made up for in a rewarding skein of associations.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Stanford Live (formerly Stanford Lively Arts)  Streaming Steve Reich
January 9, 2010

The music of Steve Reich can sound deceptively simple. After all, for about 50 years, his name has been associated with so-called minimalism. The term vaguely denotes music built from the repetition and layering of simple musical modules over harmonies and temporal pulsations that remain relatively constant. Yet at Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium on Saturday, an all-Reich concert performed by So Percussion, a percussion quartet, made the virtuosic complexity of Reich’s music abundantly clear.

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Recital REVIEW
  Scott Tennant Songs of His Fathers and Forefathers
January 9, 2010

The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the largest and most enthusiastic audiences in the country for the classical guitar. Internationally acclaimed artists are regularly featured by San Francisco Performances and the Omni Foundation, while young talent is often presented by smaller organizations. The South Bay Guitar Society, undoubtedly the best organized and ambitious of these smaller presenters, gave its audience a special treat Saturday: Scott Tennant, a founding member of the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, in a rare solo recital.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 New Esterházy Quartet  Boccherini, That Chamber Music Renegade
January 8, 2010

On the surface, Friday’s program for a concert at Palo Alto’s First Lutheran Church looked peculiar. The concert consisted of four works, all with the same instrumentation — two violins, one viola, two cellos — all written by the same late-18th- and early-19th-century composer; one who is not perceived as being among the hot shots of classical chamber music. Yet this situation shows you the dangers of holding such superficial attitudes.

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CD REVIEW
  Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire: Salzburg Precision Plus
January 5, 2010

Piano fans will find much of interest from the new two-piano release of Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire, drawn from live performance at last summer’s Salzburg Festival. Their programming consists of two staples, Brahms’ Haydn Variations, Op. 56b, and Schubert’s Rondo in A Major, D. 951, plus two uncommon transcriptions: Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, and Ravel’s La Valse (Deutsche Grammophon 477 8570).

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CD REVIEW
  La Barcha d'Amore The Savalls’ Ship of Love
December 29, 2009

La Barcha d’Amore is a celebration. Exquisitely planned and executed, the anthology celebrates over 30 years of music-making by ensemble Hespèrion XX (now Hespèrion XXI) and orchestra Le Concert des Nations.

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CD REVIEW
  Zivian-Tomkins Duo In Your Face Beethoven
December 22, 2009

Eric Zivian and Tanya Tomkins have been playing together as a period-instrument cello/keyboard duo for some time, but the first that many Bay Area listeners likely heard of their partnership was as two thirds of the solo contingent in Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s performances of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto last fall. The only prior recording of the duo that I’ve happened upon was also of Beethoven: the sonatas Opp. 5/2 and 102/2, the “Bei Männern” Variations (WoO46), and the Op. 119 Bagatelles, downloadable from magnatune.com

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CD REVIEW
  Vivaldi: <em>The French Connection</em> The Ever-Fresh “French” Vivaldi
December 15, 2009

One of the handy things about Antonio Vivaldi, from a violinist/conductor’s point of view, is that few composers sound at once so familiar and so fresh. You can, of course, make up a disc-length program of Vivaldi concertos that everyone already knows; but it’s as easy (and much more fun) to make up a disc-length program of Vivaldi concertos such that only one person in 10,000 will know every piece on the bill.

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