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!


Archive REVIEW
   Infinite Variety in Brahms
May 20, 2008

One of the finer aspects of the San Francisco Symphony's current Brahms Festival is that in only three programs it manages to give a pretty complete view of what he stood for. The second of those three programs Thursday evening in Davies Symphony Hall featured one of his most lighthearted orchestral works, the Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16, the dramatically tragic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15, and one of his displays of sheer compositional technique, the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.

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Archive REVIEW
   Miracle of the Nodal Vent
May 20, 2008

When a concert is titled "Sound the Trumpet," and features music of Bach and Handel, listeners naturally expect to get their ears blasted off with the Second "Brandenburg" and the Royal Fireworks Music. But nary a kettledrum was in sight as the American Bach Soloists and natural-trumpeter John Thiessen showed the more lyrical side of the trumpet in Saturday's concert at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, repeated Sunday in San Francisco and Monday in Davis.
Thiessen's sound was clear and sweet, full of heart-stopping high D's (he didn't miss one all night) and agile passagew

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Archive REVIEW
   Study in Bitterness
May 20, 2008

As if to mirror the state of bitterness attributed to some citizens of our country in these days, baritone Matthias Goerne and his excellent accompanist Alexander Schmalcz presented a vocal recital Saturday at Herbst Theatre that was a study in bitterness.

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Archive REVIEW
   Lady in the Dark
May 13, 2008

Maria Billingsley's Martinez Opera has done a great deal of community outreach and educational programming over the six years of its existence. That has given her company an identity and strong local support. Ultimately, though, an opera company is valued and judged by the quality of the work it puts on the stage.

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Archive REVIEW
   The Duke's Exotic Consort
May 13, 2008

The glamour and accolades that go along with being royalty are apparently difficult to enjoy when your throne is being directly challenged. That is made enjoyably clear in Oakland Opera Theater's production of Duke Ellington's comic opera Queenie Pie (playing through May 25), in which Harlem's preeminent beauty queen faces formidable competition for her title, for her romantic interest, and, perhaps most important, for the patronage of her enticing assortment of beauty products.
Quite literally, Queenie Pie is a production within a production within a production.

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Archive REVIEW
   Hard Nut? Consider It Cracked
May 13, 2008

Symphony aficionados seldom get a chance to hear two performances of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto so close to each other. Last month it was performed in Oakland. And now, to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Brahms' birth, the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas decided to do things right and put on a festival that offered both piano concertos along with two other major works, including the Fourth Symphony and the Requiem.

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Archive REVIEW
   The Rachmaninov Challenge
May 13, 2008

There are several pianists today who have built their repertoire around the music of a particular composer. I can think of a number of prominent artists specializing in Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, or Chopin. But I would hesitate to name a foremost “Rachmaninovist.”
Pianists face daunting difficulties when they play Rachmaninov. They have to generate that special, rich, and full-bodied tone associated with the composer.

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Archive REVIEW
   Of Fairy Tales and Love Songs
May 13, 2008

Saturday's programming for the Gold Coast Chamber Players was so delightful that it brought smiles to the face of many an attendee. I don't know whether artistic director and violist Pamela Freund-Striplen came up with the concept on her own, but it was pure inspiration to pair Roland Kato's piano quintet arrangement of Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose (Ma Mère l'oye) with William Bolcom's droll Fairy Tales, Eric Whitacre's 5 Hebrew Love Songs, and Robert Schumann's rousing Piano Quintet, Op.

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Archive REVIEW
   Three Hits and a Little Miss
May 13, 2008

There apparently aren't a lot of moms who enjoy virtuoso chamber music, for although the Legion of Honor was packed for Mother's Day, the festive program of the Avedis Chamber Music Series ensemble downstairs in the Florence Gould Theater drew only half a hall's worth of listeners. The program featured unusual works, to be sure, but all were of the smilingly breezy type that's easily assimilated — nothing remotely troublesome in the way of repertory or the performances of it.
The afternoon opened with Beethoven's Serenade in D Major, Op.

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Archive REVIEW
   Pedal to the Metal
May 13, 2008

Even before Polish piano virtuoso Rafal Blechacz struck the first chord in his San Francisco debut recital Sunday at Herbst Theatre, the hall was brimming with anticipation. A former student of mine, a Polish-born young woman, came up to me with her mother, who said excitedly, "We are so proud of him!" Polish was spoken everywhere, of course. Then Daniel Levenstein, director of Chamber Music San Francisco, came onstage and thanked the concert sponsors, James and Arlene Sullivan.

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