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!


Archive REVIEW
   A Salute to Brahms
April 15, 2008

May 7 will be Brahms' 175th birthday. You may have noticed that many musicians have been jumping the gun a bit to celebrate the event. The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra got out on the track Friday by delivering a fine performance of Brahms' Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16.
The program in Herbst Theatre opened with a rare performance of Beethoven's Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, and the premiere of Belinda Reynolds' Bridges, a piece apparently designed to complement the Brahms Serenade.

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Archive REVIEW
   Funny, Even in Translation
April 15, 2008

The crack early-music ensemble Magnificat attempted the difficult challenge of performing a Baroque comic opera in concert over the weekend. The form is unlike serious opera or slighter genres such as intermezzos or serenatas, which readily lend themselves to unstaged presentation.

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Archive REVIEW
   Setting Beethoven in Time
April 15, 2008

To play all 32 Beethoven sonatas in public over two years, or 20, is one of the greatest challenges facing the pianist. The technical difficulties they present pale before the range of experience they embody and demand for their full realization.

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Archive REVIEW
   Still Packing a Punch
April 15, 2008

Oh, my virgin ears. Was that a portamento in Haydn? Did he just play that open string on purpose in the middle of that phrase? Haydn didn't ever mark sul ponticello, did he?
The Juilliard String Quartet, revered relics of a previous generation and a vanishing style, are still kickin' after all these years. Wednesday night at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, presented by Stanford Lively Arts, it played with a rough passion I've only heard on old recordings of the Budapest String Quartet.

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Archive REVIEW
   Of Doleful Countenance
April 15, 2008

Musical links, not literary ones, generally form the basis of orchestral programs, but last week at Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony took a novel approach. On the program were two works inspired by Cervantes' 17th-century masterpiece, Don Quixote — first, Manuel de Falla's 1923 one-act opera, Master Peter's Puppet Show, and, after intermission, Richard Strauss' 1897 tone poem, Don Quixote.
I could imagine this pairing being of particular interest to aficionados of Spanish literature. For music lovers, it proved less of an attraction.

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Archive REVIEW
   A Period-Instrument Ninth
April 8, 2008

A decade or so back, there was some talk of a planned, independent-label Beethoven symphony cycle from Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, all the recording to be done in concert. Since then, PBO has taken to issuing live recordings on its own label, and the Beethoven project appears to be taking slow shape. A disc coupling the "Eroica" and the Eighth Symphony appeared in 2005, and last year was joined by this Ninth.
Listen to the Music

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Archive REVIEW
   Baroque's Lively Light
April 8, 2008

As the musical establishment for England’s monarchy, the Chapel Royal has played host to some of that nation’s most renowned musicians, from Thomas Tallis and William Byrd to Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Nowadays the latter two figures stand unequivocally as the pride of the English Baroque, so it seemed appropriate that Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s program should accentuate these composers’ more lively side.

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Archive REVIEW
   Unshowy Genius
April 8, 2008

I came in hopes of a full solo recital from Leon Fleisher at Herbst Theatre on Saturday. I left grateful that Fleisher is back and in fine form as a soloist, and that he shared the stage with his wife, the pianist Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. The program included two late masterpieces by Schubert: one for piano duet, one solo.

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Archive REVIEW
   Balletic Fluidity and Expression
April 8, 2008

Last Wednesday, it was Laura Jackson’s turn to impress the Berkeley Symphony audience and perhaps follow Kent Nagano as music director. Hugh Wolff and Guillermo Figueroa showed their stuff earlier this season, and three more candidates are going to do the same this fall. How did she measure up? Let’s examine the criteria of programming choices, technique, interpretation, and orchestral management.
Jackson scored high marks for interesting selections.

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Archive REVIEW
   <em>Four Seasons,</em> Many Nations
April 8, 2008

Friday night’s performance by Europa Galante offered a long-awaited opportunity to hear some of the most colorful performers on today’s early-music scene. The orchestra’s appealing program, played on Baroque period instruments, made it easy to see why director-violinist Fabio Biondi’s exploration of unfamiliar repertoire and his imaginative rethinking of venerable warhorses like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons have drawn such a popular following.
Although often mentioned in the same breath with the equally colorful Andrew Manze, Biondi is a much more understated performer.

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