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!

 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.

More about San Francisco Opera »
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.

More about Cal Performances »
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!”

More about Santa Rosa Symphony »
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.”

More about Stanford Live (formerly Stanford Lively Arts) »
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.

More about San Francisco Performances »
  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.

More »
Chamber Music REVIEW
 San Francisco Contemporary Music Players  Serving Up Tall Orders
November 2, 2009

Monday’s concert by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players was titled “Made to Order,” an allusion to the highly inventive and original sonic landscape of every piece on the program. Or, it could just be an acknowledgment that three of the four pieces were commissioned for performance by the SFCMP. In any case, individuality and experimentation pervaded the program, which was given at Herbst Theatre.

More about San Francisco Contemporary Music Players »
Recital REVIEW
 Cal Performances  Louis Lortie’s Dance With Devils
November 1, 2009

Maybe it was the Halloween season, or the full moon, or just because he could. Presented by Cal Performances, pianist Louis Lortie’s recital Sunday at Hertz Hall was composed of works having something to do with diabolical virtuosity. Among the spooky stuff covered, there were two corpses, a fantastic imp, things that go bump in the night, and, to top it off, Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata.

More about Cal Performances »
Early Music/Baroque REVIEW
   Out of the Germanic Closet
October 31, 2009

Even decades of piecemeal exploration by curious historical performers have not made German music of the generation or two before Bach exactly familiar ground for most listeners. The chamber ensemble La Monica’s most recent San Francisco Early Music Society program, titled “Out of the Depths,” assembled a varied but consistently interesting clutch of vocal and instrumental works.

More »
Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Vänskä Victory
October 28, 2009

Osmo Vänskä saved the best for last in his most recent guest appearance with the San Francisco Symphony. Wednesday night at Davies Symphony Hall, the Finnish conductor introduced his second program in two weeks, achieving his most dynamic and cohesive results with this orchestra to date.

More about San Francisco Symphony »