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!


CD REVIEW
  Till Fellner:<br>Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5 Strength and Grandeur
March 16, 2010

Like the footsteps of a life partner, Beethoven’s music is heard so frequently that it’s easy to take it for granted. But listen to Austrian pianist Till Fellner’s ECM New Series CD of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos No. 4 and 5, performed with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano, and the love affair is renewed.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances Thomas Adès To Paraphrase, Encore
March 16, 2010

The British composer Thomas Adès has been writing intricately structured and colorfully orchestrated music for nearly two decades now. Before he became a composer, though, he trained for a career as pianist, and he has the formidable technique and deep musicianship of a great player.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Ives Quartet  Repeat Counts as Pleasure
March 14, 2010

One of my favorite composition teachers once said, “Any buffoon can get a premiere. A real achievement is a repeat performance.”

Last May, I reviewed the Ives Quartet’s premiere of Dan Becker’s work Time Rising. At the time, I was intrigued by its unusual macro structure: three tiny movements — or “ingredients” — followed by a much longer movement: the final product. Hearing the Ives play the work again on Sunday, I knew what to expect, and this time I was struck by its rhythmic complexity and the slowly moving harmony — each first presented as ingredients, then folded into the final piece.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Music at the Mission  Of Time and Turmoil
March 13, 2010

Saturday’s Music at the Mission chamber music concert, at Old Mission San Jose in Fremont, bore the title “Music in the Time of Turmoil: From Conflict to Redemption.” It featured a quartet for the end of time, and another quartet from after the end of time. It was a solid, meaty chamber music concert: not heavy or overlong, just full of provocative 20th-century compositions related to war or inspired by it.

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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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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 »
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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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 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
 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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