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!

  <em>Wondrous Free: Song of America II </em> Listening to Thomas Hampson's America
September 15, 2009

After several decades of championing American art song, baritone Thomas Hampson refuses to let the major label slowdown hold him back. Instead, he’s started the Thomas Hampson Media label, and launched a full-out multimedia American song assault, as well.

More »
Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra  Exuberantly Baroque
September 12, 2009

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s opening concert of its 2009-2010 season, “Apotheosis of the Dance,” was an exercise in transcending the traditionally defined eras of musical history. In an exuberant performance of symphonic works by Haydn and Beethoven Saturday at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, this Baroque orchestra gave a quintessentially romantic performance of some mainstays of the classical repertory: passionate and full-bodied, with a strikingly lush sound and unrelenting energy.

More about Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra »
Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 New Century Chamber Orchestra  Let Us Now Arrange Famous Composers
September 11, 2009

Compared to other forms of music-making, classical music is noted for keeping to the original score rather than arranging works anew for each performer. Leonard Bernstein once even suggested that “exact music” would be a better name. Yet there is a place for arrangements in our field, and one of those places was the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto on Friday, where the New Century Chamber Orchestra gave a concert of Bach and Mussorgsky ... with a difference.

More about New Century Chamber Orchestra »
 San Francisco Opera  <em>Trovatore </em>Signals a New Dawn at San Francisco Opera
September 11, 2009

It’s a curious fact about Il trovatore, Verdi’s "magnificent demonstration of unprincipled melodrama," as Joseph Kerman called it, that this 1853 potboiler contains so much dramatically still water. No sooner does the curtain rise than a captain launches into a lengthy, action-stalling account of events that happened years before. And that’s not the only instance of extended exposition in Salvatore Cammarano’s creaky libretto, based on the Antonio Garcia Gutierrez play.

More about San Francisco Opera »
  DVD REVIEW:<br>Washington National Opera<br><rm>La Rondine</em> A Shockingly Different <em>La Rondine</em>
September 8, 2009

Those of us who saw San Francisco Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Rondine in fall 2007 may think that we know the opera. We don’t. SFO’s Nicolas Joël production, which was reprised at the Metropolitan last season and simultaneously shown in hi-def in many theaters around the world, is not the final word on Puccini’s Johnny-come-lately masterpiece. For that we must turn to the scholarship of Marta Domingo, and Decca’s newly released DVD of her radically revised version of La Rondine for Washington National Opera.

More »
Chamber Music REVIEW
 Classical Revolution  Classical Revolution Knocks on the Art House Door
September 3, 2009

A small crowd gathers at the corner of Folsom and 23rd streets in San Francisco Thursday night, waiting to be let into Classical Revolution’s chamber music performance at the Red Poppy Art House. A man passing by recognizes the signs of an event and stops to ask someone in the crowd what’s going on. They talk at length, but no luck; the man leaves.

More about Classical Revolution »
  Beethoven: Complete Works For Cello and Piano Bailey and Dinnerstein Fearlessly Deliver Five-Alarm Beethoven
August 25, 2009
As a lens on the arc and evolving character of Beethoven's music, the complete works for cello and piano offer a concise, revealing, and altogether absorbing perspective. It helps, immeasurably, that the performances of the five sonatas and three sets of variations on this two-disc Telarc set are so keenly conceived and finely polished.  More »
 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 8/Adagio from Symphony No. 10 San Francisco Symphony’s Magnificent Mahler
August 24, 2009

With the exultant opening exclamation of “Veni, creator spiritus,” the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus recapture the torrential excitement they unleashed in their November 2008 performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at Davies Symphony Hall. In one sense, that shouldn’t surprise. This recording, like the others in conductor Michael Tilson Thomas’ magnificent Mahler cycle, was set down live during those concerts last fall. More about San Francisco Symphony »

  San Francisco Opera Merola Grand Finale<br/>Grand Beginnings
August 22, 2009

For those of us who love opera, the Merola Grand Finale is like a decisive first date. Some singers who parade their stuff before us may have the looks, the glamour, the ease, and the savoir faire for an enjoyable outing.

More »
  Seattle Opera<br>Aug. 12 and 14 Seattle <em>Ring</em> Achieves<br> a Triumphant Finale
August 18, 2009

The Seattle Opera’s Siegfried performed heroically on Wednesday, fighting the lingering effects of an illness more challenging than Fafner the dragon. Stig Andersen’s strategy worked.

More »