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  Soldiering Through at the S.F. Symphony
November 12, 2009

From the first downbeat of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, conductor Semyon Bychkov and the San Francisco Symphony exuded the confidence and anticipatory pleasure of travelers setting out on a familiar journey. The audience at Davies Symphony Hall was warmly invited along for the ride. We knew where we were going, which somehow heightened rather than diminished the possibility of new sensations — a discovery of things unseen, overlooked, or forgotten over the years.

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CD REVIEW
  Rossini-Colbran, the Muse Passion and Fireworks From Joyce DiDonato
November 10, 2009

By the time she completes the first astounding 50-second musical statement of “D’Amor al dolce impero” (To the sweet rule of love), mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has delivered her calling card. The soaring high notes, seamless runs, and imperious declarations of the impossibly demanding second-act finale of Gioachino Rossini’s opera Armida establish, in no uncertain terms, that she’s a major artist at the height of her powers.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Cal Performances  One Voice, One Mind
November 8, 2009

If there’s anything common to great string quartets, it’s that they have collective personalities much as great musicians have individual ones. What inflects a quartet’s performance of a work becomes, at some undefinable but high level of accomplishment, not only four individual wills but also, seemingly, one composite one. And it’s a will that you can recognize at work whatever the music, just as you can recognize a voice or a touch or a violin tone across repertoire.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra  Philharmonia <em>Dido</em> Highlights Purcell Collaboration
November 8, 2009

“Poetry and painting have arrived to their perfection in our own country; music is yet but in its nonage, a forward Child, which gives hope of what it may be hereafter in England, when the masters of it shall find more Encouragement.”

With these words from the dedication to his Dioclesian, Henry Purcell invited future Englishmen to claim him as founder of a modern musical tradition.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  First-Rate Russian at S.F. Symphony
November 8, 2009

Leaving Davies Symphony Hall Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the San Francisco Symphony’s all-Sergei Rachmaninov program, I was wondering if I’d put on weight merely by listening to it. Guest conductor Semyon Bychkov led only two large works, with everything but the kitchen pantry thrown in.

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Opera REVIEW
 San Francisco Opera  Viva Verdi! Viva Luisotti!
November 8, 2009

Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello is the final production of San Francisco Opera’s fall season. The opera might be more commonly performed, but it makes strenuous vocal demands on the protagonist and it's difficult to find singers who have mastered the role. Fortunately, Johan Botha, a South African dramatic tenor, is more than up to the job. He brings a strikingly powerful voice and notably easy vocalism to the task. It is rare, indeed, to hear a tenor who deftly navigates Otello’s vocal difficulties.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Stanford Live (formerly Stanford Lively Arts)  Best and Brightest of Bernstein
November 7, 2009

Nearly 20 years after his death, the name of Leonard Bernstein still carries magic among musicians and audiences, enough to ensure a full house Saturday at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium for “A Portrait of Leonard Bernstein.”

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Santa Rosa Symphony  What Dvořák Knew
November 7, 2009

On reading the score of Antonín Dvořák’s magnificent Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, Dvořák's mentor Brahms is reputed to have said, “Why on earth didn’t I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known, I would have written one long ago!”

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances Salons at the Rex Exciting Young Singers Need Polish
November 4, 2009

It’s no wonder that San Francisco Performances’ intimate Italian salon at San Francisco’s Hotel Rex sold out two weeks in advance.

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CD REVIEW
  Brahms: The Symphonies Brahms, Marvelously Considered
November 3, 2009

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve heard the four Brahms symphonies more times than the Bay Area weather people notify me the next day will be sunny. But Simon Rattle is no ordinary weatherman in his new release of these concert-hall stalwarts. With Rattle, there's no boringly familiar, stupid smiling sun slapped up on the map, and calling it a day.

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