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  Ablaze With Brahms
November 20, 2009

The bill was all-Brahms on Friday at Davies Symphony Hall, for the first of two reverently anticipated performances by the Berlin Philharmonic. Right away, as if to signal this would be no orthodox Germanic worship service, Music Director Simon Rattle opened with a thorough, consciousness-altering makeover of the composer.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Conservatory of Music  Master Class of Wagnerian Intensity
November 19, 2009

It was time for students in the San Francisco Conservatory’s symphony orchestra to knuckle under. The world-famous, dandelion-headed conductor was taking time out of his busy schedule to run a master class workshop just for them. But — gasp — was he encouraging an anarchic free-for-all?

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CD REVIEW
  Leif Ove Andsnes and Robin Rhode: Pictures Reframed Putting It Together
November 17, 2009

Pictures Reframed, a multimedia presentation of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition that unites the pianism of Norway’s Leif Ove Andsnes (b. 1970) with the graphics and film of South African visual artist Robin Rhode (b. 1976), is a stunning achievement. Far more than merely another multimedia collaboration for our multitasking, iPod-toting era, it brilliantly illumines Mussorgsky’s achievement in ways that transcend the literalism of words, images, and notes on a page.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances Joyce DiDonato   Banking on Greatness
November 16, 2009

I have no greater joy than basking in the artistry of a great singer at the top of her form. Such was my feeling as mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, perfectly accompanied by pianist John Churchwell, began her San Francisco Performances recital Monday at Herbst Theatre. Singing to an eager audience that included many supporters and fans who have followed her ever since her 1997 San Francisco summer in the Merola Opera Program, DiDonato looked every inch the star in the baby-blue, Grecian-style dress and gold-patterned cinch that perfectly complemented her shining blonde hair.

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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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