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!
Last Wednesday, it was Laura Jackson’s turn to impress the Berkeley Symphony audience and perhaps follow Kent Nagano as music director. Hugh Wolff and Guillermo Figueroa showed their stuff earlier this season, and three more candidates are going to do the same this fall. How did she measure up? Let’s examine the criteria of programming choices, technique, interpretation, and orchestral management.
Friday night’s performance by Europa Galante offered a long-awaited opportunity to hear some of the most colorful performers on today’s early-music scene. The orchestra’s appealing program, played on Baroque period instruments, made it easy to see why director-violinist Fabio Biondi’s exploration of unfamiliar repertoire and his imaginative rethinking of venerable warhorses like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons have drawn such a popular following.
By the time an erstwhile hot young virtuoso has lived through a couple decades of concertizing, whatever keeps you still listening is necessarily something other than hotness, youth, or virtuosity. Sometimes, to be sure, even the youth and the hotness persist longer than you would think possible. (Joshua Bell remains implausibly fresh and cute; I say nothing of the enchanted portrait obviously hidden in Ian Swensen's closet.)
Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack comes from Buenos Aires, and her home is now in San Francisco, but her future is in the great opera houses and recital halls of the world. Her Schwabacher Debut Recital Sunday only confirmed what her Merola Program appearances last year — especially in the title role of La cenerentola — clearly indicated: She is a phenomenon.
"Indigenous Instruments," composer Steve Mackey writes of one of his pieces, "is vernacular music from a culture that doesn't actually exist." But at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall on Friday, the audience was able to catch aural samples of familiar vernacular music. Echoes of rock and jazz jostled with idioms of 20th-century art music in four works by Mackey, performed by Citywater and the Sacramento State Percussion Group.
Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony is his longest work, and from Mahler, who was never brief, that's really saying something. It's six movements long and takes about an hour and three-quarters to perform. The Third requires a large orchestra, including eight French horns (who blast out the opening theme in unaccompanied unison) and four each of most of the other winds and brass.
As soon as soprano Elza van den Heever started to pour forth her large, stunning sound, a story about Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad came to mind. For Flagstad's first Metropolitan Opera audition, she was sent to a small rehearsal room whose proportions so cramped her vocal projection that no one sensed her ultimate potential.
Tastes in violin recitals have changed markedly over the years. At one time, the second half of a virtuoso's program generally consisted entirely of what we now think of as encore pieces. Nowadays, paradoxically, the only time you are likely to see a program like that is when the player is an "intellectual" musician making a historical point. The modern fashion leans more toward weighty, serious programs, often made up entirely of familiar sonatas, or at least of acknowledged masterpieces.
Listen to the Music
Israeli percussionist Chen Zimbalista is a throwback to the days when “entertainer” wasn’t a pejorative term. He radiates energy onstage, tells stories, indulges in audience participation, choreographs the beginnings and endings of pieces in true showman style, mines a wide variety of musical genres from around the globe, and exemplifies the old Italian art of sprezzatura, making nearly impossible technical challenges seem easy.