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!


Recital REVIEW
   Midori Does It All, and Well
February 6, 2010

Violinist Midori proved Saturday in Herbst Theatre, under the auspices of San Francisco Performances, that a healthy musical diet can consist almost solely of works written in the 1990s. Her superb musicianship and faultless programming instincts produced one of the best recent-music chamber concerts I have heard in some time.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Concord Out of Discord
February 5, 2010

The San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas paid a mammoth tribute to two American composers, Charles Ives and Henry Brant, last week. Friday’s performance of A Concord Symphony, music by Ives as orchestrated by Brant, was a landmark in local performances of 20th-century music.

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CD REVIEW
  Barber, Bernstein, Bloch Gluzman and the Three Bs
February 2, 2010

Brimming with earnest and tender melodies by a 20th-century version of the Three B’s — Bernstein, Bloch, and Barber — this BIS recording showcases the abundant gifts of violinist Vadim Gluzman. Undeterred by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra’s often lackluster contributions, the Israeli soloist offers proof of how rich and nuanced the often broad-brushed adjective “lyrical” can actually be.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Marin Symphony  Dance of the Blessed Violinist
January 31, 2010

After all the passion of Mozart’s Requiem and the fire of Brahms’ violin concerto, the signature moment of Sunday’s Marin Symphony concert arrived during the encore, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits. Violin soloist Vadim Gluzman played the brief interlude to perfection, barely raising his volume above a whisper, the better to demonstrate his absolute command of dynamics and phrasing. It was a tender, almost ethereal, performance — a fitting end to an evening marked by virtuosity, musicality, and feeling.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Old First Concerts Hausmann Quartet Subtly Strategic Programming
January 31, 2010

There is a rough protocol for establishing a name as a newish chamber ensemble. It involves, among other things, programming carefully so as to interest the people whose opinions might make your name, while not frightening the horses. That means, in general, picking up and prominently featuring a work by a currently favored composer (or, better yet, commissioning it yourself, if you can afford to do so).

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Opera REVIEW
 Opera Parallèle  Operatic Heaven From Hell
January 30, 2010

Ensemble Parallèle sold itself short by emphasizing that their two performances of Alban Berg’s nightmarish early-20th-century opera, Wozzeck, would fill the breach left since San Francisco Opera last performed the work in November, 1999. Heard and seen in the relative intimacy of Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the West Coast premiere of John Rea’s 21-musician chamber reorchestration needed no apologia. Ensemble Parallèle’s oft-devastating, 90-minute multimedia wow of a production was whole and complete unto itself.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Effervescent “Pulcinella”
January 27, 2010

It’s been a decade since the San Francisco Symphony presented an entire festival devoted to the music of Igor Stravinsky, but music lovers with fond memories of the two-week extravaganza in June 1999 had to be somewhat assuaged by the orchestra’s program last week at Davies Symphony Hall. With two of the composer’s works — Pulcinella and Octet — on the program, Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra captured the spirit, if not the breadth, of that earlier celebration.

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Dance REVIEW
  San Francisco Ballet Dancers Lead <em>Swan Lake</em> Out of the Woods
January 27, 2010

No one enjoys breaking the news that San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s production of Swan Lake, unveiled last year, has serious flaws. After all, even a distantly faithful combination of the Tchaikovsky score and what has been handed down of the 1895 Ivanov/Petipa choreography is practically guaranteed to cast a spell on a general audience — who wants to kill that buzz? Fortunately, a singular ballerina in the dual role of Odette and Odile can make even seasoned ballet fans forget this staging’s shortcomings and walk out in a swoon.

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Recital REVIEW
   Rare Treat From Ma and Ax
January 26, 2010

Last Tuesday’s performance by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax at Davies Symphony Hall was designed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of two of the most iconic Romantic era musicians, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann.

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CD REVIEW
  John Adams: Nixon in China Barren Diplomacy Makes for Mesmerizing Music
January 26, 2010

Those of us fortunate enough to attend Opera Colorado’s 2008 production of John Adams’ engrossing opera Nixon in China were swept to our feet by its cumulative impact. Given that the performance of soloists and Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the able hand of Marin Alsop, and the Opera Colorado Chorus under Douglas Kinney Frost, was witnessed by many hundreds of the music and arts critics and personnel who had descended on Denver for the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention, the artistic triumph was all the greater.

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