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!


Choral REVIEW
   Tallis Scholars’ Telltale Sounds
December 4, 2009

Amid an ever-expanding roster of outstanding Renaissance ensembles, the Tallis Scholars remains a force to be reckoned with. For several decades now, Director Peter Phillips and his singers have been leaders on the early-music scene through internationally renowned tours and recordings, as well as by cultivating a distinctively bright sound, anchored by laser-sharp sopranos and rich, voluminous basses. At its best, this sound conveys remarkable purity and crispness, with an icy edge.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances Ji Young Yang and Gerald Thompson Shepherdess With a Sword
December 2, 2009

When Christine Lim of San Francisco Performances invited former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow soprano Ji Young Yang to present a one-hour Salon at the Rex, Yang proposed a pairing with her fellow, former Adlerian, countertenor Gerald Thompson. Thus was born a duo recital that began with early music, then embraced the unexpected.

The duo immediately set the tone on Wednesday night with two works by Purcell.

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CD REVIEW
  Sacrificium Cecilia Bartoli: More With Less
December 1, 2009

It’s a toss-up as to whether listening to mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli’s spectacular new Decca recording of music written for the star castrati of the 18th century is more exhilarating or exhausting. Many of Sacrificium’s 15 arias, which are stronger as virtuosic showpieces than conveyers of emotional truth, contain more trills, roulades, and impossibly difficult runs than any singer can be rightly expected to generate in the course of a day. 

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Choral REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony Chorus  Doctored Bach, A Balm to the Soul
November 29, 2009

Some pedantic fuddy-duddies may decry what transpired in Davies Symphony Hall last weekend, but those who love music, and who especially love J.S. Bach, were happy to experience an outstanding performance of an edited version of his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248.

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CD REVIEW
  Renée Fleming: Verismo The Truth a la Fleming
November 24, 2009

Eyebrows rise at the thought of Renée Fleming, a soprano who has built her reputation on the creamy beauty she brings to lyric soprano roles created by Mozart, Strauss, and others, singing the wrenching verismo repertoire of Puccini, Mascagni, Catalani, Cilea, and others. Verismo is about blood and guts, sweat and suffering, and enough over-the-top singing to sear the makeup off Fleming’s ubiquitous glamour shots.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Chora Nova  Gems From Ludwig
November 21, 2009

When it comes to Beethoven’s vocal music, the average listener’s familiarity is probably limited to a few classics: his opera Fidelio, the Missa solemnis, the final movement of Symphony No. 9. Yet a treasure trove of repertory lies hidden beneath these monuments — many vocal works, in fact, many of quite superior quality but habitually ignored except among specialists.

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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 Music REVIEW
  Jon Nakamatsu and Jon Manasse Splendors of the Jon/Jon Duo
November 20, 2009

On Friday, the remarkable duo of clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu gave a sensational recital of works that covered the period from the first half of the 19th century to a celebratory composition written for the centennial of Benny Goodman’s birth, which occurs this year.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Peninsula Symphony Peninsula Symphony Orchestra<br>Stanford Symphonic Chorus And Now For Something Completely Different ...
November 20, 2009

Tired of the usual run of jolly Christmas choral music? A nearly full house on Friday in Stanford’s spacious Memorial Church welcomed in their holiday season with a Requiem. And not just any Requiem. What the Stanford Symphonic Chorus and Peninsula Symphony Orchestra had gathered to perform under the baton of Stephen M. Sano, the Chorus’ director, was a new performing edition of the Missa pro defunctis by Antonín (alias Anton, alias Antoine) Reicha.

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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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