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!


Recital REVIEW
 Cal Performances  Heaven or Hell With Jeremy Denk
October 24, 2010

If you wanted to come up with a pairing of diametric opposites on a piano recital, you might choose the complete Ligeti Études and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, two monumental works that at first glance seem psychologically light years apart. This was Jeremy Denk’s Bay Area solo debut program. It promised to be an auspicious one, and I couldn’t wait to see if he would pull it off.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Conlon, Bell, Rarities Rule
October 21, 2010

James Conlon is one of the finest conductors around, and he is also a maverick presenter of unusual programs. And so it was expected that he would bring something different to his current appearances with the San Francisco Symphony (which he first led 32 years ago), and he did not disappoint.

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CD REVIEW
  Higdon and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos Higdon and Hahn Strike It Big
October 19, 2010

It’s a rare Pulitzer Prize winner in music who can boast a major-label recording of the winning work issued the same year as the award. Indeed, Jennifer Higdon (who won the 2010 Music Pulitzer for her Violin Concerto) would seem to be the first in a long time. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have been writing for Hilary Hahn.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances  Exhilarating World Tour With Guitarist John Williams
October 17, 2010

Classical music advocates often take a Eurocentric view of music history that leads them to question the importance of the guitar and its repertoire. John Williams deftly reverses the logic, maintaining that a global 20th- and 21st-century perspective the guitar makes a more vital contribution than any other instrument. Williams made his case on Sunday in a recital received by a packed audience.

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Opera REVIEW
 West Bay Opera  La Forza del West Bay
October 17, 2010

If no weapons are involved, next time I am facing a gang in a dark alley, I want Gabriel Manro on my side. Making his debut here, in the West Bay Opera’s sensational production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, Manro is a new kind of baritone: not lyric, not helden, not Kavalier, not Bariton-Martin — none of those. Rather, he’s a knock-down baritone.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra  Harpsichordist Dazzles With Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
October 17, 2010

Harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen, heard Sunday with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Berkeley, is an interpretive genius. And, it was little surprise that pairing one of America’s great period orchestras with a harpsichordist of such dramatic flair would produce impressive results.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Symphony Silicon Valley  Hungarian Feast at Symphony Silicon Valley
October 16, 2010

Symphony Silicon Valley’s showcase of Hungary came in an exploration in the obscure but worthy corners of the repertoire and a young and dazzling solo performer. Three works by modern Hungarian composers of the same generation, plus three by foreigners evoking the country, were saved from being too much of the same thing by liveliness and a riot of orchestral color.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Kronos Quartet  Kronos Remembers 9/11
October 13, 2010

The Kronos Quartet have taken program-planning to a new level, stitching together works by 12 different composers, played without pause and with carefully planned segues. In doing so, the group essentially created a new 90-minute masterpiece: Awakening, a “musical meditation on the anniversary of 9/11.” The program was first played on Sept. 11, 2006 and was repeated on Wednesday, as the opening concert of Stanford Lively Arts' season.

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Opera REVIEW
 San Francisco Opera  S.F. Opera's Fitful Fluttering <em>Madama Butterfly</em>
October 12, 2010

Can Madama Butterfly fail? “Impossible,” say some 195 performances by the San Francisco Opera alone. Only La bohème is more often performed, and that by a whisker. Both present us with a transient happiness whose precious fragility can never survive the pathos — the inescapable sadness — that is the destiny of human life.

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CD REVIEW
   Music of the African American Experience
October 12, 2010

“Recorded Music of the African Diaspora” is the first release of what promises to be a series in a partnership between Albany Records and the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. This series starter can be strongly recommended for the Wilson song cycle.

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