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
   Near-Reckless Brilliance
May 6, 2008

There's a certain satisfaction to be derived from designing a program that combines a narrow focus with enough variety to work as an actual concert, and I imagine that San Francisco Symphony Associate Conductor James Gaffigan was modestly proud of the one he and the orchestra brought off Thursday afternoon.

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Archive REVIEW
   The Strings Have It
May 6, 2008

Audiences jumped to their feet for standing ovations after performances by the Philharmonia on both Sunday and Monday at Davies Symphony Hall, presented by the San Francisco Symphony. The venerable orchestra was in town for a set of concerts under Christoph von Dohnányi, the ensemble's principal conductor. Consistently rated as one of the top 10 orchestras of Europe, the Philharmonia delivered impeccable intonation, phrasing, dynamics, and virtuosity, just as it has done on countless recordings.

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Archive REVIEW
   From Beautiful to Dutiful
May 6, 2008

Were it not the brainchild of Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, a festival marking the San Francisco Ballet's 75th anniversary by presenting 10 new ballets in one week (three programs in all) would be regarded as a fool's errand. Some fool. Some errand.
It's a success. Not all the ballets are fabulous, but the music and dancing that propels them is unequivocally wonderful, permeating the air in the War Memorial Opera House with a sense of fizzy delight.

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Archive REVIEW
   Lost in Song
May 6, 2008

Felicity reigned Thursday night at Herbst Theatre as San Francisco Performances presented a concert by two superb musicians, soprano Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson. The program, German in the first half and mainly French in the second, grouped songs according to the lyrics: settings of particular poets. The German songs started with settings by Gustav Mahler of poetry by Rückert, and ended with poems by Goethe set by Hugo Wolf. In between, a group of songs by Robert Schumann used poems by both poets.
Lott's singing of this repertoire caught the mood of each song beautifully.

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Archive REVIEW
   Scaling the Bartók-Ravel Summit
May 6, 2008

Another huge feather — Cyrano's famed plume, even — in Berkeley Opera's tiny cap, the double-bill of Béla Bartók's 1918 A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára (Bluebeard's Castle) and Maurice Ravel's 1925 L'Enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the magic spells) opened Saturday night at the Julia Morgan Theatre with a fabulous production and some kind of prestidigitation.
Jonathan Khuner's orchestra was seated behind a screen upstage, so the musicians remained invisible throughout the evening.

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Archive REVIEW
   Exploring Styles of Performing
May 6, 2008

Last December, Kent Nagano and Stuart Canin unveiled the Berkeley Akademie Ensemble, a project designed to cultivate "explorations of style" and "develop ensemble technical skills" (as the organization describes its goals). Thursday marked the Akademie's second concert, held in Berkeley's First Congregational Church.
One way in which the Akademie challenges its musicians is through its revival of the practice (pre-19th century) of the conductorless orchestra. In performances of C.P.E. Bach's Symphony in C Major, W. 182, No.

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Archive REVIEW
   Dulled Impact
May 6, 2008

What is all the fuss about Mason Bates? The 31-year-old DJ cum classical and electronica composer, whose works have been championed by his teacher, John Corigliano, has received both a Rome Prize and an American Academy in Berlin Prize.

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Archive REVIEW
   Charming Voyage
May 6, 2008

The San Francisco Opera premiere of Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince was a great success Friday night at Zellerbach Hall. Anyone who has seen the drawings in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, Le Petit Prince, will immediately recognize it as the inspiration for Francesca Zambello’s whimsical production, jointly presentated by San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances, and conducted by Sara Jobin. The action takes place on a stage of gold and azure framed by a circular frontispiece out of which appear stars, lamps, baobabs, and water, just to name a few.

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Archive REVIEW
   Musical Fragrances in the Air
May 6, 2008

On Monday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players presented a polished, energetic performance of four colorful recent works by composers from the United States, Argentina, and France.
The most effective of these works was Reynold Tharp's gorgeous San Francisco Night (2007), a premiere which closed the concert's first half. Inspired by a visit to our fair city in 2006 (Tharp was also a doctoral student at UC Berkeley for several years), San Francisco Night is a sensuous evocation of the colors and atmospheres of the Bay Area.

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Archive REVIEW
   Inner Demons Unleashed
April 29, 2008

When the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto in D Minor appears on a piano recital, and it is performed by a local 16-year-old high schooler, it is truly a cause of interest and celebration. Chloe Pang, a supertalented student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, ended her Saturday recital at the Conservatory with a powerful performance (with faculty Miles Graber on second piano) of the Rachmaninov, whose technical and dramatic challenges can evoke fear and trepidation even in the most seasoned of pianists.

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