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!
Everything came together beautifully in the finale of Thursday’s concert by the New Century Chamber Orchestra at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, and it was Paul Hindemith’s strikingly original concerto for piano and strings, The Four Temperaments, that was the catalyst. Composed in 1940 as a dance score for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, it became a signature work for the company in Balanchine’s distinctive choreography, and remains in their repertory to this day.
Ah, a Takács Quartet recital. Another few months gone (the violist-groupie in me thinks), another rare chance to hear Geraldine Walther play. Only I find that I'm not really thinking about the Takács' visits like that anymore. Walther is a great violist, but the Takács with her in it is something more interesting — a great quartet, and one that seems to become greater by the minute. Sunday's all-Beethoven recital, presented by Cal Performances at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, the last we'll hear from this quartet for some time locally, found the players working at a fearsomely high level.
When you think of imagery and text painting in Baroque music, you are likely to think first of the era’s early Italian composers and the madrigal tradition. The American Bach Soloists, however, remind us that despite his reputation as a composer of highly technical and complex music, J.S. Bach also turned out incredibly vivid and colorful works.
Rarely do audiences anywhere get the chance to hear any full-scale choral-orchestral works other than the Messiah, which tyrannically monopolizes the Christmas season. So last Thursday’s performance of Mendelssohn’s masterful oratorio Elijah, with the inestimable strengths of conductor Herbert Blomstedt, formed the high point of at least my season. Blomstedt’s musicality and concern for details had the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in flawless style. With him came an elegant roster of fully engaged soloists — especially baritone Alan Opie in the title role.
The casinolike Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland is an architectural marvel. Its Art Deco interior, if not beautiful or elegant, is bold and stunning. The opposite was true of the music at the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s concert on Friday night — it was mostly beautiful and elegant, but not bold and stunning. Its Shostakovich sounded too mellow, Golijov’s Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind was given in its diffused string-orchestra version, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade was not as mesmerizing as its namesake.
To say we heard Martin Fröst play the clarinet at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre on Thursday would be an understatement. We came to see his San Francisco Performances debut, and in return he made us see how music can defy gravity. Fröst is a virtuoso with the instrument, and his sound, always miraculously well-tuned, can soar effortlessly and beautifully, thanks in part to a gently stifled tone that, over inhuman stretches, is unbroken by audible breathing.