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 Francisco Symphony  'Primal Light' Trumps Gigantism
March 12, 2010

Every time I hear what Gustav Mahler did not call his “Resurrection Symphony” — but others did — I think about what the work must have sounded like to the first listeners 115 years ago. Sure, they had heard “big sounds” from Beethoven and Wagner, though without Stravinsky, Bartók, and others in their ears, what could they have made of Mahler’s dizzying complexity?

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CD REVIEW
  Elgar Violin Concerto: Nikolaj Znaider Tough Nut Cracked
March 9, 2010

The Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider has a taste for challenges. Two years ago, in his San Francisco Performances debut recital, he gave a stunning performance of Arnold Schoenberg's late Phantasy. The Schoenberg Concerto, a monumentally tough nut, is in his repertoire; so is Carl Nielsen's notoriously difficult one.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances Jennifer Koh Going It Alone
March 9, 2010
Unaccompanied violin recitals are sufficiently rare that the image and bio of Jennifer Koh’s longtime recital partner, pianist Reiko Uchida, made it into the printed program of last Tuesday’s Herbst Theatre recital before San Francisco Performances staff realized their mistake. It would be misleading to say that Uchida (a very fine pianist) was not missed. But Koh by herself was amply capable of holding anyone’s attention. More about San Francisco Performances »
Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France Ravishing Ravel
March 7, 2010

Last week was a big week for Maurice Ravel’s music at Davies Symphony Hall. Hard on the heels of the four San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts that included Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, Sunday evening saw a large, all-Ravel program by the visiting Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under its conductor, Myung-Whun Chung. Yet in a way, the most memorable part of all this was Sunday’s glorious vocalism by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra  Savall Scintillates With the PBO
March 7, 2010

Sunday evening at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra treated an enthusiastic audience to a Francophilic romp through Europe, titled “The French Suite in Europe.” We started in Stockholm, of all places, with Guillaume Dumanoir’s 17th-century Suite du Ballet de Stockholm. Little is known about this piece, which comes to us from a single manuscript source in Kassel, Germany, a fact that explained the bizarre Franco-Germanic movement designations in the program.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Flip/Flop
March 6, 2010

Patrons flipped over the first half of Saturday’s San Francisco Symphony concert. A premiere by Victor Kissine pleased all listeners I chatted with, from the conservative to the avant-garde. And soloist Christian Tetzlaff’s subjugation of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto so electrified the audience that he received a prolonged standing ovation, convention be damned, between its first and second movements.

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Festival REVIEW
 Other Minds  Drinking in a Perfect Blend
March 5, 2010

I would hazard a guess that rarely has a local music festival been so intriguing and provocative as San Francisco’s Other Minds Festival, which is headed by the insightful and interesting Charles Amirkhanian. Last night’s concert at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center, which opened the festival’s 15th season, proved no exception to its excellent track record.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 New Century Chamber Orchestra  Serenading the Dancer From the Dance
March 4, 2010

New Century Chamber Orchestra’s current program, titled “Serenades and Dances,” bookends a pair of shorter, lighter works around a core of two large-scale mainstays of the standard repertory, Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings and Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. Big kudos are due Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, for her programming and musical leadership, because on Thursday, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, all four works got top-notch, absorbing performances, with the Britten lifted to greatness by the brilliance of tenor Brian Thorsett and horn player Kevin Rivard.

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CD REVIEW
   Zingy Mendelssohn From the Benvenue Trio
March 3, 2010

As an accomplished violinist and pianist, the young Felix Mendelssohn took to piano-and-strings chamber music almost immediately. It’s not an accident that his first three published works are all quartets for piano and string trio.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Stanford Live (formerly Stanford Lively Arts)  Adding K to the Three B’s
March 3, 2010

With pianist Peter Serkin as its guest artist, the Orion String Quartet brought a pantheon of composers to its Stanford Lively Arts concert on Wednesday at Dinkelspiel Auditorium: Bach. Beethoven. Brahms. ... And Leon Kirchner.

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