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 Music REVIEW
 New Esterházy Quartet  Boccherini, That Chamber Music Renegade
January 8, 2010

On the surface, Friday’s program for a concert at Palo Alto’s First Lutheran Church looked peculiar. The concert consisted of four works, all with the same instrumentation — two violins, one viola, two cellos — all written by the same late-18th- and early-19th-century composer; one who is not perceived as being among the hot shots of classical chamber music. Yet this situation shows you the dangers of holding such superficial attitudes.

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CD REVIEW
  Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire: Salzburg Precision Plus
January 5, 2010

Piano fans will find much of interest from the new two-piano release of Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire, drawn from live performance at last summer’s Salzburg Festival. Their programming consists of two staples, Brahms’ Haydn Variations, Op. 56b, and Schubert’s Rondo in A Major, D. 951, plus two uncommon transcriptions: Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, and Ravel’s La Valse (Deutsche Grammophon 477 8570).

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CD REVIEW
  La Barcha d'Amore The Savalls’ Ship of Love
December 29, 2009

La Barcha d’Amore is a celebration. Exquisitely planned and executed, the anthology celebrates over 30 years of music-making by ensemble Hespèrion XX (now Hespèrion XXI) and orchestra Le Concert des Nations.

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CD REVIEW
  Zivian-Tomkins Duo In Your Face Beethoven
December 22, 2009

Eric Zivian and Tanya Tomkins have been playing together as a period-instrument cello/keyboard duo for some time, but the first that many Bay Area listeners likely heard of their partnership was as two thirds of the solo contingent in Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s performances of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto last fall. The only prior recording of the duo that I’ve happened upon was also of Beethoven: the sonatas Opp. 5/2 and 102/2, the “Bei Männern” Variations (WoO46), and the Op. 119 Bagatelles, downloadable from magnatune.com

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CD REVIEW
  Vivaldi: <em>The French Connection</em> The Ever-Fresh “French” Vivaldi
December 15, 2009

One of the handy things about Antonio Vivaldi, from a violinist/conductor’s point of view, is that few composers sound at once so familiar and so fresh. You can, of course, make up a disc-length program of Vivaldi concertos that everyone already knows; but it’s as easy (and much more fun) to make up a disc-length program of Vivaldi concertos such that only one person in 10,000 will know every piece on the bill.

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CD REVIEW
  Giuliano Carmignola: <em>Concerto Italiano</em> Rare, But Well-Done
December 15, 2009

Musicians who come from recording on “modern” violin (cello, piano, whatever) to recording on “period” (ditto) generally sort themselves into two heaps. Some check out “period” playing because they have noticed that some of their colleagues and of their listeners are interested; they try it, mess around with it (as we might say), and then go back to what they were doing before. They don’t scorn the “period” shtick, but they aren’t interested in living in that world full-time.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Cal Performances Kronos Quartet and Joan Jeanrenaud Epic Reunion
December 13, 2009

The Kronos Quartet reunited with its former longtime cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, on Sunday at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, for a program of fascinating, if not brilliant, new music. At their Cal Performances recital, the group premiered Vladimir Martynov’s Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished), commissioned by the ensemble. It essentially consists of a few measures lifted from the gorgeous slow second movement of Franz Schubert’s Cello Quintet, Op.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Left Coast Chamber Ensemble  Companionable Scores
December 10, 2009

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s practice of commissioning companion pieces to established repertoire is such a marvelous idea that it’s strange not to see it emulated everywhere. Judging by composers’ program notes, the general concept is all over the place; composers are always, it seems, being asked to write companion works to this or that.

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Recital REVIEW
 Cal Performances  The New Depths of Renée Fleming
December 6, 2009

Renée Fleming surprised us on Sunday night. Walking onto the Zellerbach Hall stage for her virtually sold-out Cal Performances recital, ensconced in a form-fitting, gorgeous green dress that would be the envy of any prom queen, she looked as beautiful as ever. But no one expected her, after she took her place alongside the piano, to pick up a microphone and address the audience.

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Choral REVIEW
 Magnificat  Milanese Mass and Motets
December 6, 2009

Magnificat’s dazzling singers have done it again. As part of their ongoing project to perform and record the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, four singers brought her glorious music vividly to life in a performance Saturday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley. The four women sang music that Cozzolani wrote for the famous singing nuns in her convent, Santa Radegonda, in 17th-century Milan.

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