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 Music REVIEW
 Left Coast Chamber Ensemble  Companionable Scores
December 10, 2009

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s practice of commissioning companion pieces to established repertoire is such a marvelous idea that it’s strange not to see it emulated everywhere. Judging by composers’ program notes, the general concept is all over the place; composers are always, it seems, being asked to write companion works to this or that.

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Choral REVIEW
 Magnificat  Milanese Mass and Motets
December 6, 2009

Magnificat’s dazzling singers have done it again. As part of their ongoing project to perform and record the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, four singers brought her glorious music vividly to life in a performance Saturday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley. The four women sang music that Cozzolani wrote for the famous singing nuns in her convent, Santa Radegonda, in 17th-century Milan.

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Recital REVIEW
 Cal Performances  The New Depths of Renée Fleming
December 6, 2009

Renée Fleming surprised us on Sunday night. Walking onto the Zellerbach Hall stage for her virtually sold-out Cal Performances recital, ensconced in a form-fitting, gorgeous green dress that would be the envy of any prom queen, she looked as beautiful as ever. But no one expected her, after she took her place alongside the piano, to pick up a microphone and address the audience.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Santa Rosa Symphony  We Have Ignition
December 5, 2009

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has been played repeatedly in Sonoma County during the past decade, beginning with a memorable performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony under Jeffrey Kahane in the aftermath of 9/11. That event was so successful that several other renditions followed, including one in the Sonoma State University gym. The culmination, however, arrived at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, with a spine-tingling presentation by the Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Pacific Edge Voices (formerly Pacific Mozart Ensemble)  Keeper of the Passion's Flame
December 4, 2009

Since Christmas celebrates the birth of the Holy Son, a piece about the death of an earthly girl might seem out of place on a holiday concert. This weekend, though, the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, the Grammy-nominated chorus directed by Lynne Morrow and Richard Grant, delivered a winter concert that revolved around precisely such a piece.

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Choral REVIEW
   Tallis Scholars’ Telltale Sounds
December 4, 2009

Amid an ever-expanding roster of outstanding Renaissance ensembles, the Tallis Scholars remains a force to be reckoned with. For several decades now, Director Peter Phillips and his singers have been leaders on the early-music scene through internationally renowned tours and recordings, as well as by cultivating a distinctively bright sound, anchored by laser-sharp sopranos and rich, voluminous basses. At its best, this sound conveys remarkable purity and crispness, with an icy edge.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances Ji Young Yang and Gerald Thompson Shepherdess With a Sword
December 2, 2009

When Christine Lim of San Francisco Performances invited former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow soprano Ji Young Yang to present a one-hour Salon at the Rex, Yang proposed a pairing with her fellow, former Adlerian, countertenor Gerald Thompson. Thus was born a duo recital that began with early music, then embraced the unexpected.

The duo immediately set the tone on Wednesday night with two works by Purcell.

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CD REVIEW
  Sacrificium Cecilia Bartoli: More With Less
December 1, 2009

It’s a toss-up as to whether listening to mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli’s spectacular new Decca recording of music written for the star castrati of the 18th century is more exhilarating or exhausting. Many of Sacrificium’s 15 arias, which are stronger as virtuosic showpieces than conveyers of emotional truth, contain more trills, roulades, and impossibly difficult runs than any singer can be rightly expected to generate in the course of a day. 

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Choral REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony Chorus  Doctored Bach, A Balm to the Soul
November 29, 2009

Some pedantic fuddy-duddies may decry what transpired in Davies Symphony Hall last weekend, but those who love music, and who especially love J.S. Bach, were happy to experience an outstanding performance of an edited version of his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248.

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CD REVIEW
  Renée Fleming: Verismo The Truth a la Fleming
November 24, 2009

Eyebrows rise at the thought of Renée Fleming, a soprano who has built her reputation on the creamy beauty she brings to lyric soprano roles created by Mozart, Strauss, and others, singing the wrenching verismo repertoire of Puccini, Mascagni, Catalani, Cilea, and others. Verismo is about blood and guts, sweat and suffering, and enough over-the-top singing to sear the makeup off Fleming’s ubiquitous glamour shots.

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