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
   Ensemble Gombert’s Crystalline Polyphony
September 22, 2009

Some early music ensembles approach the performance of Renaissance polyphony as if it were fine crystal: beautiful, but delicate, a fragile object not to be unduly disturbed. Like crystal, the music can occasionally shimmer and reveal prisms of color when viewed through different angles, but it remains a static object, more a museum piece than a kinetic construct. This analogy aptly summarizes the experience of hearing Ensemble Gombert, a 14-voice chamber choir from Australia specializing in High Renaissance polyphony.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Left Coast Chamber Ensemble  From Left Coast to Around the Globe
September 21, 2009

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble does not confine itself to the region of its name. The Bay Area–based chamber ensemble opened its 2009-2010 season Monday evening at the Green Room of the Veterans Building in San Francisco with an engaging program of short works derived from such far-flung musical locales as Armenia, India, Iran, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and the Balkans.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Concerts Grand  Pulling Listeners Into Her World
September 20, 2009

North Bay fans of piano music are a lucky bunch. For the past six years, the Concerts Grand series, produced by Terry McNeill, has been presenting piano recitals primarily in Sonoma, attracting established as well as upcoming talents from near and far. Every year, pianists of extraordinary caliber have graced the Newman Hall stage of Santa Rosa Junior College. 

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Choral REVIEW
  Trinity College Choir, Cambridge Trinity Goes to Tinseltown
September 20, 2009

We Americans often find the concept of an established church difficult to grasp. As our fellow citizens debate school prayer, crosses in public parks, and vouchers for religious schools, official state support of the church remains de rigueur in other lands and is an integral part of state education. This is particularly apparent at the famous British universities Oxford and Cambridge.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Bay Area Rainbow Symphony (BARS)  Orchestra of Promise
September 20, 2009

Warhorse has become a dirty word, synonymous with tired and predictable. If a musical warhorse is included in a concert program, particularly one as important as the season opener, its function is to appease those who did not love the aural and intellectual assaults that preceded it. So it’s fitting that the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, a gay and lesbian volunteer orchestra whose enterprise is based on daring, would disregard the trend with an opening night lineup featuring one very short contemporary piece and two warhorses.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Magical Mahler From the S.F. Symphony and Susan Graham
September 16, 2009

For many San Francisco Symphony fans, the orchestra’s 2009/2010 season finally got underway last Wednesday (Sept. 16). True, the season’s official start came one week earlier, with a glitzy gala that featured pianist Lang Lang. But it wasn’t until Wednesday’s all-Mahler program at Davies Symphony Hall that Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra got down to serious business. And, as usually happens when this conductor and his ensemble delve into the music of Mahler, the results were dazzling.

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CD REVIEW
 Alexander String Quartet <em>Beethoven: Complete String Quartets</em> Bargain Beethoven From the Alexander String Quartet
September 15, 2009

Beethoven’s music can be played in many ways: by emphasizing its sheer momentum by tearing ahead, or its dramatic dynamic shifts by overdoing the extremes a bit, or its contemplative virtues by taking time to sniff the daisies along the way. These can run to extremes when it comes to his monumental output of 16 string quartets.

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CD REVIEW
  <em>Wondrous Free: Song of America II </em> Listening to Thomas Hampson's America
September 15, 2009

After several decades of championing American art song, baritone Thomas Hampson refuses to let the major label slowdown hold him back. Instead, he’s started the Thomas Hampson Media label, and launched a full-out multimedia American song assault, as well.

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Opera REVIEW
 San Francisco Opera  Patricia Racette’s Triumphant<br>Triple-header
September 15, 2009

In a long-gone era of baseball, before they needed four days of rest between starts, pitchers routinely worked both games of a doubleheader. Soprano Patricia Racette goes them one better in San Francisco Opera’s Il trittico, by playing substantial roles in all three outings of this 1918 Puccini triple-header of one-act operas.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra  Exuberantly Baroque
September 12, 2009

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s opening concert of its 2009-2010 season, “Apotheosis of the Dance,” was an exercise in transcending the traditionally defined eras of musical history. In an exuberant performance of symphonic works by Haydn and Beethoven Saturday at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, this Baroque orchestra gave a quintessentially romantic performance of some mainstays of the classical repertory: passionate and full-bodied, with a strikingly lush sound and unrelenting energy.

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