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!
The best thing about the Carmel Bach Festival, besides that it's in Carmel, is that, as Calvin used to say to Hobbes, "The days are just packed." Except that, unlike Calvin's day, one at the festival really is packed. In 11 hours in town last Thursday, I attended two concerts, a preconcert lecture, a Q & A session, and a vocal master class, leaving time for a two-hour dinner break. Walking briskly between venues four or five blocks apart is good exercise.
Last Thursday’s San Francisco Symphony’s Summer in the City concert in Davies Symphony Hall turned into a light, but charming array of basic French fare, as conductor James Gaffigan went from opera excerpts to Ravel’s bitter take on the Viennese Waltz. The largest piece, however, turned out to feature pianist Inon Barnatan playing Saint-Saëns’ most popular Concerto, his second.
The second installment of this season's Midsummer Mozart Festival took off on Thursday at Mission Santa Clara. Unlike the first program, this concert featured only two works — and for good reason. The Serenade for 12 wind instruments and a double bass, K. 361, lasts for almost an hour, longer than any of Mozart's large symphonies scored for a full orchestra.
Suffering hath no season. Perhaps that’s why, on a beautiful summer’s day just warm enough for short sleeves, the Carmel Bach Festival programmed baritone Sanford Sylvan performing, in shirt sleeves, Schubert’s chilling song cycle, Der Winterreise (Winter’s journey). It was no small challenge, on such a lovely day, to conjure Schubert's bare, desolate, emotional landscapes. Sylvan sang with deep commitment, but the performance failed to reveal, for me, the depth of despair at the heart of the cycle's 24 songs.
The third annual Festival del Sole came to an impressive conclusion Sunday afternoon at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under its dynamic new music director, Jaap van Zweden, performing an all-Mahler program capped by a forceful, streamlined performance of the composer's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor.
Often the repertoire and locale of summer festivals seem, on first glance, a disconcerting mix, as the music we are used to hearing in a formal concert hall setting doesn’t smoothly combine with bucolic surroundings. This anomaly kept coming to mind while attending the July 16 concert at Napa Valley’s Festival Del Sole, produced at Castello di Amorosa (near Calistoga), which is a replica of a 12th-century Tuscan stone stronghold, with eight levels, which cost untold millions to build.
Few rock concerts are as eventful as the Wagner-Mozart-Bach presentation at Festival del Sole last Thursday turned out to be. The news included the disruptive effects of a Presidental visit and roadblock, a serious injury to the conductor/violinist the day before the concert, and a near-catastrophic memory lapse by the pianist.
From Beethoven to Wagner to Schoenberg, Johann Sebastian Bach influenced the subsequent course of Western music. Everybody knows that. Particularly influential is Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. This work consists of two volumes, each of which features one prelude and one fugue in every major and minor key. Since Well-Tempered Clavier is a staggering compendium of Bach's contrapuntal techniques, classical performers and composers alike learn from it still today.
Bach's Mass in B Minor can be a work of grandeur, just as it can be a miscellany of movements gathered from various of his cantatas with the original words replaced by those of the Latin Mass. Either, and even more possibilities, can readily be justified, or at least rationalized. The sprawling work opened the 71st season of the Carmel Bach Festival Saturday night at Carmel's Sunset Center with Music Director Bruno Weil conducting the orchestra, a Festival Chorale of 28 voices, and a solo vocal quartet.