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!
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.
By the time an erstwhile hot young virtuoso has lived through a couple decades of concertizing, whatever keeps you still listening is necessarily something other than hotness, youth, or virtuosity. Sometimes, to be sure, even the youth and the hotness persist longer than you would think possible.More »
"Indigenous Instruments," composer Steve Mackey writes of one of his pieces, "is vernacular music from a culture that doesn't actually exist." But at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall on Friday, the audience was able to catch aural samples of familiar vernacular music. Echoes of rock and jazz jostled with idioms of 20th-century art music in four works by Mackey, performed by Citywater and the Sacramento State Percussion Group.More »
Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony is his longest work, and from Mahler, who was never brief, that's really saying something. It's six movements long and takes about an hour and three-quarters to perform. The Third requires a large orchestra, including eight French horns (who blast out the opening theme in unaccompanied unison) and four each of most of the other winds and brass.
Then there are two choruses (who only get to sing for four minutes in the middle of the symphony), plus a solo singer (who gets slightly more time than the choruses).
"Are all choral concerts like this?" asked my extremely sensitive sister-in-law. Had she not continued her thought, I could have responded in many ways.
"No, they are not," I might have said. Of the thousands upon thousands of choral groups that grace the American landscape, precious few are as fine-tuned and impeccably voiced as San Francisco Choral Artists. Even close up, in the second row of Oakland's St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where the fine acoustic covers precious little, the voices blend smoothly.
As soon as soprano Elza van den Heever started to pour forth her large, stunning sound, a story about Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad came to mind. For Flagstad's first Metropolitan Opera audition, she was sent to a small rehearsal room whose proportions so cramped her vocal projection that no one sensed her ultimate potential.More »
Tastes in violin recitals have changed markedly over the years. At one time, the second half of a virtuoso's program generally consisted entirely of what we now think of as encore pieces. Nowadays, paradoxically, the only time you are likely to see a program like that is when the player is an "intellectual" musician making a historical point.More »
The first of two concerts by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sunday in Davies Symphony Hall, required some program shuffling. The venerable Sir Neville Marriner was filling in for the indisposed pianist-conductor Murray Perahia. With the presence of 21-year-old pianist Yuja Wang, the combination of youth and experience made for a zesty evening of virtuosity.
Marriner opened and closed with the two symphonies originally programmed: Mozart's Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297, the "Paris" Symphony, and Haydn's Symphony No, 104, also in D major, the "London" Symphony.