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 Youth Orchestra  Try a Little Tenderness
November 15, 2009

The normally high standards of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra were only dimly in evidence Sunday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall. Their recently appointed new conductor, Donato Cabrera, seemed only partly in control of himself, as well as the orchestra, through one modern standard and two major classics.

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Choral REVIEW
 Volti  Sound Garden
November 15, 2009

Some ensembles offering contemporary choral music specialize in the extreme “listener-friendly” end of the spectrum. Not so the San Francisco chamber chorus called Volti, which is interested in something more challenging, both to perform and to listen to. Sunday in Palo Alto’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church, a small, round, concrete bunker of modernist architecture that was extra dark (the fluorescent lights were off, because they buzz), Volti performed a well-rounded program of small, dark, concretely modern works of music.

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Recital REVIEW
 Berkeley Symphony   Sweetness, Light, and Power From Nuccia Focile
November 15, 2009

Soprano Nuccia Focile, singing Verdi and Puccini in her native tongue for an adoring crowd Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Hertz Hall, shared the performance with tenor David Lomelí. Focile has sung in most of the world’s famous opera houses, and Lomelí, a recent Adler Fellow in San Francisco, is at the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant opera career. Together, they brought scenes from La bohème and La traviata vividly to life.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Soldiering Through at the S.F. Symphony
November 12, 2009

From the first downbeat of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, conductor Semyon Bychkov and the San Francisco Symphony exuded the confidence and anticipatory pleasure of travelers setting out on a familiar journey. The audience at Davies Symphony Hall was warmly invited along for the ride. We knew where we were going, which somehow heightened rather than diminished the possibility of new sensations — a discovery of things unseen, overlooked, or forgotten over the years.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Other Minds  The Wizard of Menlo Park
November 12, 2009

What makes Henry Cowell such a fun composer to listen to is that you never know what he’ll do next. A whole bunch of the tricks up his sleeve were on display at a mash-up concert of his chamber music on Thursday, the first and more adventurous of two concerts last week sponsored by Other Minds. 

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Other Minds  All Hail Henry Cowell
November 12, 2009

Lou Harrison called him “the central switchboard for two or three generations of American composers.” John Cage said he was the “open sesame” of American music. Yet Henry Cowell’s significance to American music remains unappreciated, even by most classical music fans. In his home state, Bay Area residents who recognize his name are unlikely to think that the Santa Cruz redwood forest is named for him, rather than, as it happens, for an unrelated lime/logging/land baron.

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CD REVIEW
  Rossini-Colbran, the Muse Passion and Fireworks From Joyce DiDonato
November 10, 2009

By the time she completes the first astounding 50-second musical statement of “D’Amor al dolce impero” (To the sweet rule of love), mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has delivered her calling card. The soaring high notes, seamless runs, and imperious declarations of the impossibly demanding second-act finale of Gioachino Rossini’s opera Armida establish, in no uncertain terms, that she’s a major artist at the height of her powers.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  First-Rate Russian at S.F. Symphony
November 8, 2009

Leaving Davies Symphony Hall Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the San Francisco Symphony’s all-Sergei Rachmaninov program, I was wondering if I’d put on weight merely by listening to it. Guest conductor Semyon Bychkov led only two large works, with everything but the kitchen pantry thrown in.

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Opera REVIEW
 San Francisco Opera  Viva Verdi! Viva Luisotti!
November 8, 2009

Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello is the final production of San Francisco Opera’s fall season. The opera might be more commonly performed, but it makes strenuous vocal demands on the protagonist and it's difficult to find singers who have mastered the role. Fortunately, Johan Botha, a South African dramatic tenor, is more than up to the job. He brings a strikingly powerful voice and notably easy vocalism to the task. It is rare, indeed, to hear a tenor who deftly navigates Otello’s vocal difficulties.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Cal Performances  One Voice, One Mind
November 8, 2009

If there’s anything common to great string quartets, it’s that they have collective personalities much as great musicians have individual ones. What inflects a quartet’s performance of a work becomes, at some undefinable but high level of accomplishment, not only four individual wills but also, seemingly, one composite one. And it’s a will that you can recognize at work whatever the music, just as you can recognize a voice or a touch or a violin tone across repertoire.

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