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!
Those inclined to universalize have often pointed to the nearly uninterrupted performance tradition and seemingly unending appeal of Bach as evidence of his greatness. As part of her three-day Bach Festival, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt was joined at Berkeley's First Congregational Church last Thursday by German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. The concert included all three of Bach's Gamba Sonatas, plus one of the solo suites for cello and a keyboard partita. Their performance revealed yet another of the many faces of Bach, one that is well-suited to a contemporary audience.
San Francisco Opera has a winner in its production of Mozart's final opera, The Magic Flute. The performance Saturday night, both musically and dramatically, was splendid. The production, created by Gerald Scarfe for Los Angeles Opera in 1992, is indeed magical, featuring a pyramid that can morph into many structures, a fabulous snake, a beguiling collection of hybrid animals (such as a giraffestrich on stilts and toe shoes), and quasi-Egyptian iconic lions.
One great performance, one disappointment, and one bore were offered on last week’s San Francisco Symphony program. At least, that’s how it came across on Thursday’s matinee opening in Davies Symphony Hall. Still in all, that made for a .500 batting average for the afternoon.
Many observers, myself included, tend to put Philip Glass in an uncomfortable box: He writes repetitive drones, he's been writing the same thing over and over for more than 35 years, he can't compose a melody worth a hill of beans, what was revolutionary in his earlier music now seems dated, and so on.
From the evidence of the inaugural concerts of its 80th season, conductor Bruno Ferrandis has found a secure home with the Santa Rosa Symphony. Now the third-oldest in the state, this orchestra is playing better than ever for the French maestro, clearly finding his incisive section control and sonic balance to their liking, which was something not always present under predecessor Jeffrey Kahane. Pianist Kahane had a virtuoso’s flair and wide audience appeal, but not the precise baton that Ferrendis seems to bring to each work he presents.
The Marin Symphony launched its 55th season with a nearly impossible task — keep a full house at the Marin Civic Center concentrating on the music from the stage during a simultaneous screening of the famous film The Battleship Potemkin. But it worked on Tuesday, thanks to generous portions of at least four Shostakovich symphonies that sustained the silent movie masterpiece by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.
Stanford's Dinkelspiel Auditorium is not a large hall, but the St. Lawrence String Quartet played there on Sunday afternoon with a sense of intimacy worthy of a far smaller venue. Not that it couldn't be heard, or anything like that. The nearly full audience hung on every note. But the quartet proved that there are other ways to provide an exciting and moving chamber music concert than by letting all the stops out.
Every year the music department of Mills College in Oakland presents a concert prominently featuring the music of Darius Milhaud, in celebration of the long and fruitful association between the college and the composer, who was in residence there for many years. On Friday, violinist Graeme Jennings and pianist Christopher Jones performed two early sonatas by Milhaud, concluding their program with pieces by Stravinsky and Carter, both of whom were among Milhaud's friends and admirers.
Appomattox, Philip Glass' much-anticipated new opera, rolled into San Francisco on October 5 as part of a wave of premieres by the composer, who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year. While it’s a less musically interesting work than either his Eighth Symphony or Songs and Poems for Cello, the opera's subject matter and the excellence of Christopher Hampton's eminently singable libretto make Appomattox theatrically effective and deeply emotional for audience members who have any knowledge of the Civil War, its causes, and its results.
An all-Vivaldi program is a tricky proposition. The Four Seasons notwithstanding, the listening public is apt to regard an evening of Vivaldi concertos with a certain skepticism, as half-remembered jibes about "the same concerto written 500 times" float to the mental surface.