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!
Thunder and lightning flashed from the piano in Herbst Theatre last Tuesday night as Canadian virtuoso Louis Lortie presented a sort-of-Liszt program, under the auspices of San Francisco Performances. Actually, most of the evening was built around Franz Liszt's great admiration for Wagner. Transcriptions abounded, because of some last-minute programming shuffling.
Cleopatra, in the person of Isabel Bayrakdarian, stormed into the First Congregational Church of Berkeley Saturday night, in the company of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Opera found its way to Germany in the early 18th century, and Cleopatra was a favorite character, sharing the stage with one or the other of her famous lovers, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Great music has a way of repeating itself, especially in recital. Just three months ago, SFCV carried my review of a Cal Performances recital by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien that included Ravel's final song cycle, Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, and Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe. I noted at the time that, since 2001, no fewer than 10 other baritones, two tenors, and two lyric sopranos had performed the latter work in the Bay Area.
Competitions play a smaller role in jump-starting the careers of chamber ensembles than they typically do in launching instrumental soloists. Even so, if your ensemble is something as specialized as a string trio, it doesn't hurt to have a high-profile competition victory or two to your credit. The Janaki String Trio, formed at the Colburn School of Music only three years ago, won the Coleman Chamber Music Competition in 2005 and then the Concert Artists Guild Competition in 2006.
The Takács Quartet returned to Hertz Hall Sunday for another installment in its all-Beethoven cycle, under the auspices of Cal Performances. It was great to see that the Quartet has developed an enthusiastic Bay Area audience, one willing to forgo a gorgeous afternoon to delve into the intricacies of two of Beethoven's most challenging quartets.
Transfer of power is never easy, but the Berkeley Symphony has made the process one of the most interesting and edifying developments of this year’s music season. Soon after Kent Nagano declared his intention to step down as music director at the end of his 30th season in 2009, the organization announced that it would hold two years of on-podium auditions to determine his successor. The race is on.
L'elisir d'amore (The elixir of love) is not only one of most melodious and rhythmically exciting works in all opera, it also testifies to its composer's defiant humanity. Gaetano Donizetti endured many personal tragedies, including the loss of his wife in a cholera epidemic in 1837, the deaths of all three of his children shortly after their births, and a horrible, debilitating disease, which caused his mental deterioration and death in 1848.
One word best sums up Friday's collaborative performance of Chanticleer and the Shanghai Quartet at Berkeley's First Congregational Church: work. Everything from the choice of works in the program to the enthusiastic work put in by the performers onstage simply "worked" well.
It took a while — until after intermission, in fact — but the San Francisco Lyric Opera's new production of La Bohème, unveiled on Friday night at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason, finally gelled into a strong performance. The singers eventually gave themselves over to Puccini’s score, but the first half had some rough moments as everyone was trying too hard to “act.”