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!
On paper, American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard reads like a filly breaking free from the pack. At 25, she has already debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in Roméo et Juliette, singing Stéphano alongside Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna. Other star turns include her recent Zerlina with Chicago Opera Theater, a forthcoming Cherubino in Santa Fe, and a gig at the Cincinnati May Festival. Orchestral appearances past and future include the Saint Louis Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and Boston Symphony.
Old First Concerts played host on Sunday to a varied and exhilarating program of chamber music by Stefano Scodanibbio, performed by sfSoundGroup and the composer himself. The concert, sponsored by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of San Francisco, was part of Primavera Italiana: The Spring Festival of Italian New Music, now in its second year.
One of the finer aspects of the San Francisco Symphony's current Brahms Festival is that in only three programs it manages to give a pretty complete view of what he stood for. The second of those three programs Thursday evening in Davies Symphony Hall featured one of his most lighthearted orchestral works, the Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16, the dramatically tragic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15, and one of his displays of sheer compositional technique, the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a.
When a concert is titled "Sound the Trumpet," and features music of Bach and Handel, listeners naturally expect to get their ears blasted off with the Second "Brandenburg" and the Royal Fireworks Music. But nary a kettledrum was in sight as the American Bach Soloists and natural-trumpeter John Thiessen showed the more lyrical side of the trumpet in Saturday's concert at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, repeated Sunday in San Francisco and Monday in Davis.
As if to mirror the state of bitterness attributed to some citizens of our country in these days, baritone Matthias Goerne and his excellent accompanist Alexander Schmalcz presented a vocal recital Saturday at Herbst Theatre that was a study in bitterness. Yet there were flashes, too, of triumph over the forces of malevolence, of the redemptive power of love, of the fierce joy in the artistic act of creation.
Maria Billingsley's Martinez Opera has done a great deal of community outreach and educational programming over the six years of its existence. That has given her company an identity and strong local support. Ultimately, though, an opera company is valued and judged by the quality of the work it puts on the stage. And with its latest production, Madama Butterfly, seen Saturday at the Alhambra Arts Center, the company has met, even exceeded, reasonable standards for a local, regional opera company.
The glamour and accolades that go along with being royalty are apparently difficult to enjoy when your throne is being directly challenged. That is made enjoyably clear in Oakland Opera Theater's production of Duke Ellington's comic opera Queenie Pie (playing through May 25), in which Harlem's preeminent beauty queen faces formidable competition for her title, for her romantic interest, and, perhaps most important, for the patronage of her enticing assortment of beauty products.
There are several pianists today who have built their repertoire around the music of a particular composer. I can think of a number of prominent artists specializing in Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, or Chopin. But I would hesitate to name a foremost “Rachmaninovist.”
Symphony aficionados seldom get a chance to hear two performances of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto so close to each other. Last month it was performed in Oakland. And now, to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Brahms' birth, the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas decided to do things right and put on a festival that offered both piano concertos along with two other major works, including the Fourth Symphony and the Requiem. Together with various chamber works prefacing some of the concerts, it promises to be a rich feast indeed.
Saturday's programming for the Gold Coast Chamber Players was so delightful that it brought smiles to the face of many an attendee. I don't know whether artistic director and violist Pamela Freund-Striplen came up with the concept on her own, but it was pure inspiration to pair Roland Kato's piano quintet arrangement of Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose (Ma Mère l'oye) with William Bolcom's droll Fairy Tales, Eric Whitacre's 5 Hebrew Love Songs, and Robert Schumann's rousing Piano Quintet, Op. 44.