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!
In a concert Friday night at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, the [email protected] festival featured the world-class artists for which it is known, playing music both familiar and strange. Although a theme like this evening's, “Death and Transfiguration,” might at first glance appear to promise a wallow in melancholy (even lacking as the program did the obvious choice of Richard Strauss' famous meditation on the subject), the intelligent selection of pieces ensured variety and light amid the gloom.
The good ship Pinafore sailed into Walnut Creek Thursday, mooring at the Lesher Center. She was manned by the Lamplighters, arguably the best Gilbert and Sullivan crew in the world.
H.M.S. Pinafore is a delightful spoof on the subjects of class, rank, and bureaucracy. The Lamplighters make the most of Gilbert's clever lyrics and dialogue, inserting occasional contemporary references ad libitum. And in this production all the singing of Sullivan's delectable music was definitely above average.
If thoughts of nonprofessional community choruses make you cringe, rest assured: The San Francisco Choral Society is something else. This 200-person chorus, in which people pay for the opportunity to sing in such venues as this concert's Davies Symphony Hall, may not perform on the exalted level of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, but it is nonetheless capable of making beautiful music.
Choral directors who tackle Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responses do so at their own peril. Andrew Megill went out on that limb to introduce himself to the Carmel Bach Festival, and, no doubt, to put his colleagues everywhere on notice that he’s prepared to play for high stakes.
In a program titled "From Darkness to Light," Megill, the festival’s new associate conductor, directed his youthful 24-voice Festival Chorale three times at Carmel Mission, and once in memory of the late Sandor Salgo at Stanford Memorial Church, between mid-July and August 1.
Mythological absurdities, deadly rivalries, and over-the-top emotion — topped by the 20-minute death throes of oversize sopranos — are familiar opera cliches. But these cliches often ignore the bubbling stream of comedy that flows through the works of Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti, and even those of Wagner, Verdi, Massenet, and Puccini.
What do you know: a grand operatic discovery at a chamber-music concert. But consider the source. He was both the "Paganini of the Double Bass" and the conductor of the Cairo premiere of Verdi's Aida. He was a composer who went on stage with the double bass at the intermissions of performances he conducted, to play fantasies on the opera's themes.
Animals, anthropomorphic and otherwise, were honored in the marvelously performed and interesting second program of the increasingly well-heeled [email protected] festival. A large and enthusiastic crowd was particularly pleased with the final number, Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, but every selection was well-received, enjoyed by audience and musicians alike. In a production of this quality, I can only take issue with minor points of promotion, interpretation, and instrumentation.
Mozart's music and reputation were extremely well-served Friday evening in Herbst Theater as George Cleve conducted a beautifully built concert of the Midsummer Mozart Festival. The concert offered two well-known major masterpieces and two short but rarely encountered arias. To the program, which was dedicated to the late soprano Beverly Sills, Cleve and his soprano soloist added a special little surprise: an encore aria popularized in the States by Sills.
Monday’s opening concert of the [email protected] festival, at St. Mark’s Church in Palo Alto, packed a fair amount of contrast into one evening. Thirteen performers, of whom only one appeared in more than one work, presented a program of one duo (for two violins), one trio (for piano and strings), one string quartet, and one wind quintet. Each of the four works acknowledged the concert’s theme of “Homage” in a different manner. And the two principal works were played in strikingly different styles.
The Napa Valley's second annual Festival del Sole continued last Wednesday with another stellar performance by the Russian National Orchestra in Yountville's Lincoln Theater. Guest soloists Joshua Bell on violin and Nina Kotova on cello joined the orchestra, which was conducted by Nicola Luisotti, who has been appointed music director of the San Francisco Opera, effective with the 2009-2010 season.