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 Conservatory of Music's young artists went way back in time to present an opera three-and-a-half centuries old, last weekend in Fort Mason Center's Cowell Theater. Richard Harrell, director of the Conservatory's Opera Theater, has bravely (and judging by the results, wisely) selected Francesco Cavalli's 1643 L'Egisto, a sensation in its time, but virtually impossible to find performed today.
Eighth blackbird's concert on Saturday defied elementary arithmetic. For example, the program featured two pieces, but four composers, which might seem twice as many composers as was required. Similarly, the first piece specified 12 musicians, but was performed by only six, which might seem twice too few.
In newspaper ads touting his appearances with the Santa Rosa Symphony, Christopher O’Riley wore a black T-shirt, the better to show off a massive henna tattoo running the length of his arm, right down to the ends of his fingers. In his April 12 concert, the tattoo was no longer in evidence, but he did manage to tattoo the symphony’s resident Steinway with some of the richest sounds to emerge from that instrument in a long time.
May 7 will be Brahms' 175th birthday. You may have noticed that many musicians have been jumping the gun a bit to celebrate the event. The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra got out on the track Friday by delivering a fine performance of Brahms' Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16.
The crack early-music ensemble Magnificat attempted the difficult challenge of performing a Baroque comic opera in concert over the weekend. The form is unlike serious opera or slighter genres such as intermezzos or serenatas, which readily lend themselves to unstaged presentation. Comic opera, with its typically recitative-heavy, slighter music, depends on stage action, comic timing, and the conveyance of complicated and farcical plots, much of which gets lost by singers in dress clothes standing in place.
Musical links, not literary ones, generally form the basis of orchestral programs, but last week at Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony took a novel approach. On the program were two works inspired by Cervantes' 17th-century masterpiece, Don Quixote — first, Manuel de Falla's 1923 one-act opera, Master Peter's Puppet Show, and, after intermission, Richard Strauss' 1897 tone poem, Don Quixote.
A decade or so back, there was some talk of a planned, independent-label Beethoven symphony cycle from Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, all the recording to be done in concert. Since then, PBO has taken to issuing live recordings on its own label, and the Beethoven project appears to be taking slow shape. A disc coupling the "Eroica" and the Eighth Symphony appeared in 2005, and last year was joined by this Ninth.
Listen to the Music
As the musical establishment for England’s monarchy, the Chapel Royal has played host to some of that nation’s most renowned musicians, from Thomas Tallis and William Byrd to Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Nowadays the latter two figures stand unequivocally as the pride of the English Baroque, so it seemed appropriate that Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s program should accentuate these composers’ more lively side.