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
 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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CD REVIEW
  For David and Wu Han New Music, Old Values
March 2, 2010
I’ve covered so many scrape-a-thon concerts of new music featuring the cello that I’ve almost forgotten what a gorgeous, melodious instrument it is. With cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han’s release (on the ArtistLed label) of four duos they commissioned, the lyrical cello returns with welcome suffusion. More »
Recital REVIEW
  KDFC@Yoshi's Gyan Riley's Guitar Night at the Club
March 1, 2010

How to widen the circle, to bring more music lovers, both young and old, into the classical fold? In a time of shrinking budgets, that question constantly haunts concert producers, record company executives, musicians, and, yes, even critics in the U.S. (not China, Korea, or parts of Europe) who find themselves communicating with a shrinking pool of graying, mainly white-skinned, classical music aficionados.

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Choral REVIEW
 American Bach Soloists  Sublime “Passion”
February 28, 2010

The American Bach Soloists’ presentation of the 1725 version of Bach’s St. John Passion brought to mind the 18th-century concept of the “sublime.” British essayist Joseph Addison defined this philosophical term as “an agreeable kind of horror.” I can do no better to describe the effect of such brilliant music, so lovingly performed by ABS on Sunday, gracing a story of such brutal violence.

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Choral REVIEW
 Cal Performances  Swedes Take the Gold
February 28, 2010

For mastery of dynamics, unity of utterance, and sheer tonal beauty, aficionados would be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished a cappella ensemble than the Swedish Radio Choir. Under guest conductor Ragnar Bohlin, the 32-member group appeared in Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus Sunday afternoon, and the music-making was as wide-ranging as it was sonically pristine.

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