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!


Archive Review
January 29, 2008

A fairly standard lineup: Wagner, Bach, Mendelssohn, and a new work having its first West Coast performance. A predictable response: moderate applause for the Wagner, a loyal standing ovation for the concertmaster soloist in the Bach, an enthusiastic reception for the Mendelssohn — and a tepid "So what?" for the new piece. And a systemic shame: The new work, a great work, a work that should have a chance to sneak up and possess its listeners, is left in the dust due to insufficient exposure.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

It’s always worth braving the elements to hear Verdi’s Requiem Mass, a score that is equally elemental and multifaceted. The work’s accessibility and its many emotional moods brings out the best in any chorus and orchestra.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

Last week the San Francisco Symphony offered up two quite different versions of what the ascent to heaven sounds like. Under the direction of guest conductor Myung-Whun Chung, the orchestra performed an innovative program that featured Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 ("Titan"). While the pieces were performed with virtuosity by both conductor and orchestra, the performance on Saturday fell just this side of the pearly gates.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

In a recital by tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake devoted entirely to Schubert songs, it was, strangely, the piano that shone. Not strange, of course, that the piano was a vital part of the performance of the songs: Schubert's accompaniments, after all, are full partners, sometimes offering comment, or warning or sympathizing with the protagonist, along the lines of a Greek chorus, or even at times revealing things the protagonist is unaware of.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

In spite of wet weather, a large and enthusiastically youthful audience gathered at Mills College's Lisser Hall on Saturday to hear the music of Helmut Lachenmann, an admired German avant-gardist, and currently the school's composer in residence. Born in 1935, he studied with Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the late 1950s, attracted by the experimentalism of the times, which has deeply influenced his own work.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

Is it possible to move in two directions simultaneously? Generally, you move either forward or backward. Moving in both directions at the same time seems appreciably trickier, and maybe even impossible outside the realm of quantum physics.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

Friday night's concert of the ensemble Adesso at Old First Church showcased an eclectic selection of music. The pieces programmed doubtless had little in common, but the quality of the playing made the evening hang together nevertheless.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

It's one of the quirks of the music business that star players tend to get locked into playing and recording only the most familiar repertoire, at least early in stardom. Look at the trajectory of any young violinist signed by a major label (if, that is, you can find one). The new star's first order of business is getting the Mendelssohn and the Tchaikovsky and Tzigane and Symphonie espagnole and the like safely to bed; then — providing they’re still around, 10 years or so on — they can think about exploring less-played music, if so inclined.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

As he neared the end of his life, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a composer active in Paris from ca. 1670 to 1704, wrote:I am he who was born long ago and was widely known in this century, but now I am naked and nothing, dust in a tomb, at an end, and food for worms. … I was a musician, considered good by the good musicians, and ignorant by the ignorant ones. And since those who scorned me were more numerous than those who praised me, music brought me small honor and great burdens. And just as I at birth brought nothing into this world, thus when I died I took nothing away.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

Music from three centuries was featured on last week's San Francisco Symphony programs in Davies Symphony Hall. But on Thursday even the inestimable Michael Tilson Thomas couldn't fully pull off his non sequitur program of Bach, Xenakis, and Schubert, highlighted by a bizarrely dressed harpsichord soloist, Elisabeth Chojnacka, for the Xenakis.

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