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!
A number of fine Czech string quartets have graced Bay Area concert venues in recent years, but Sunday night marked the first appearance of one of the most venerable, the Talich Quartet, established in Prague in 1964. Its current American tour has been long awaited; in fact, the group had been scheduled to perform at UC Santa Cruz in 2005, but was forced to cancel when the Department of Homeland Security was unable to process its visas in time.
We in the Bay Area have had a remarkable number of opportunities to hear the young violinist Hilary Hahn, whose more-or-less-yearly performances here stretch all the way back to her Brahms Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony in 1999. This year her return, courtesy of Cal Performances, was in recital with pianist Valentina Lisitsa, in a dauntingly difficult program given last Tuesday at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. It was a program seemingly calculated to demonstrate Hahn's range, and so it did, though not perhaps entirely as it was intended to.
When the ghost of Jacob Marley first appears in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, practical, level-headed Ebenezer Scrooge suspects "an undigested bit of beef" at work, rather than a supernatural knocking at the door. Thursday night, in Davies Hall, I was searching my memory for any recent digestive mishap that might have caused my strange state of mind.
For most choral aficionados, the words English anthem call to mind the rich repertoire of English-texted music for the Anglican liturgy. But this term has a different meaning for George Frideric Handel, whose set of 11 Chandos Anthems share more in common with Bach's cantatas than Byrd or Purcell.
For its opening concert of the season last Tuesday, Composers Inc. presented an often intriguing mix of pieces, including two piano solos, a couple of unusual duos, a trio, and a quartet finale. Pianist Eliane Lust began the program with a crisp, dynamic rendition of Three Pieces for Piano, by Jeffrey Miller (2007). The outer pieces, “Invention” and “Dance,” were contrapuntal, with motives combining and dissolving in animated interplay. The middle piece, “Elegy,” a reflective study in chordal textures, provided an apt contrast.
It has taken a year and a half, but the Oakland Ballet Company was back on stage Saturday afternoon in the city's Paramount Theater, and looking sharp as a sunny autumn day. Founder Ronn Guidi was also back after a bout of illness for which he "retired" in 1999. All the proceedings obviously benefited from his return, not to mention the revival of Oakland's old audience hits.
It is always gratifying to hear an elegant playing of Beethoven's music by a master perfectionist. Or, as it were, mostly Beethoven, and mostly elegant. The program on Sunday, in Davies Symphony Hall, featured András Schiff in a performance of four Beethoven piano sonatas: Op. 10, Nos. 1, 2, and 3; and Op. 13. There was also a colossal encore, Bach's Partita in C Minor. Overall, the stylishness of execution was pushed aside occasionally by the abrasiveness of the piano tone in forte.
Is there anyone in the Bay Area consistently putting together cooler programs than Nicole Paiement? Saturday's season-opening BluePrint concert, by the San Francisco Conservatory's New Music Ensemble and various guest artists under Paiement's direction, was typical of her programming since BluePrint was launched six years ago. That is to say, its design was ingenious and thought-provoking in a way that we are in danger of coming to regard as routine from her.
You would think that Dennis Russell Davies has his hands full this October, conducting Philip Glass' Appomattox at the San Francisco Opera. But Thursday night, he headed down the street to the Herbst Theatre and lent his versatility and musicianship to a piano duo performance with his keyboard partner Maki Namekawa, in a benefit for the Other Minds Festival. Each of these formidable players is a deeply musical, probing explorer at the keyboard. The duo, formed in 2003 and based in Germany, apparently does most of its concertizing there.