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  Ringed by the Imaginative George Benjamin
January 14, 2010

It’s always fascinating to hear where composers are coming from, as well as where they’re going. This week’s San Francisco Symphony program offered an intriguing case in point: As part of George Benjamin’s current residency with the orchestra, the English composer appeared on the podium to conduct two of his own works — one early and one recent — as well as music by two of his primary influences, Messiaen and Ravel.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances  Nathan Gunn, Out of the Comfort Zone
January 12, 2010

The exceptionally fine baritone Nathan Gunn was at Herbst Theatre last Tuesday, where he tackled Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The fair maid of the mill) in a recital for San Francisco Performances. If Gunn, who was accompanied by his wife, Julie Gunn, failed to score an interpretive touchdown, perhaps it’s because he was unsure where the goalposts were.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Del Sol String Quartet  World Tour, For Strings
January 11, 2010

Music composed before 1900 still pays the bills for many chamber groups, but our most adventurous ensembles, following the example of pioneers such as the Kronos Quartet, are increasingly likely to build their programs around works from the 20th and 21st centuries. The Del Sol String Quartet proved the point in a wide-ranging program Monday on the Music at Meyer series.

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Recital REVIEW
 Cal Performances Garrick Ohlsson A Master at Play in the Fields of Chopin
January 10, 2010

Garrick Ohlsson’s credentials as an interpreter of Frédéric Chopin — he has recorded the complete works, twice — place him in the top echelon of modern pianists. Many performers possess the technical prowess and power to treat the piano as a slave and to do pretty much as they please to the music. Ohlsson’s all-Chopin recital Sunday afternoon, sponsored by Cal Performances and celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, went beyond virtuosity and paid the deepest respect to our greatest “poet of the piano.”

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San José Chamber Orchestra  Shaking Hands With the Past
January 10, 2010

Sunday was string quartet night at the San José Chamber Orchestra’s concert, conducted by Barbara Day Turner, at Le Petit Trianon in its namesake city. The Cypress String Quartet played as guest soloists in the premiere of Pablo Furman’s Paso del Fuego, and the SJCO ceded the entire stage to the Cypress foursome for the first half of the concert, which consisted of Beethoven’s Quartet in F, Op. 135.

But before we get to the Beethoven, let me tell you about the premieres: two of them.

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Recital REVIEW
  Scott Tennant Songs of His Fathers and Forefathers
January 9, 2010

The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the largest and most enthusiastic audiences in the country for the classical guitar. Internationally acclaimed artists are regularly featured by San Francisco Performances and the Omni Foundation, while young talent is often presented by smaller organizations. The South Bay Guitar Society, undoubtedly the best organized and ambitious of these smaller presenters, gave its audience a special treat Saturday: Scott Tennant, a founding member of the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, in a rare solo recital.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  The Clinch Connection
January 9, 2010

The Jan. 7-10 San Francisco Symphony concerts were studies in orchestral transformation. What the relatively short program of an hour and 45 minutes, conducted by David Robertson at Flint Center and Davies Symphony Hall, lacked in intensity, it made up for in a rewarding skein of associations.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Stanford Live (formerly Stanford Lively Arts)  Streaming Steve Reich
January 9, 2010

The music of Steve Reich can sound deceptively simple. After all, for about 50 years, his name has been associated with so-called minimalism. The term vaguely denotes music built from the repetition and layering of simple musical modules over harmonies and temporal pulsations that remain relatively constant. Yet at Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium on Saturday, an all-Reich concert performed by So Percussion, a percussion quartet, made the virtuosic complexity of Reich’s music abundantly clear.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 New Esterházy Quartet  Boccherini, That Chamber Music Renegade
January 8, 2010

On the surface, Friday’s program for a concert at Palo Alto’s First Lutheran Church looked peculiar. The concert consisted of four works, all with the same instrumentation — two violins, one viola, two cellos — all written by the same late-18th- and early-19th-century composer; one who is not perceived as being among the hot shots of classical chamber music. Yet this situation shows you the dangers of holding such superficial attitudes.

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CD REVIEW
  Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire: Salzburg Precision Plus
January 5, 2010

Piano fans will find much of interest from the new two-piano release of Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire, drawn from live performance at last summer’s Salzburg Festival. Their programming consists of two staples, Brahms’ Haydn Variations, Op. 56b, and Schubert’s Rondo in A Major, D. 951, plus two uncommon transcriptions: Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, and Ravel’s La Valse (Deutsche Grammophon 477 8570).

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