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!
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.
Those inclined to universalize have often pointed to the nearly uninterrupted performance tradition and seemingly unending appeal of Bach as evidence of his greatness. As part of her three-day Bach Festival, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt was joined at Berkeley's First Congregational Church last Thursday by German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. The concert included all three of Bach's Gamba Sonatas, plus one of the solo suites for cello and a keyboard partita. Their performance revealed yet another of the many faces of Bach, one that is well-suited to a contemporary audience.
San Francisco Opera has a winner in its production of Mozart's final opera, The Magic Flute. The performance Saturday night, both musically and dramatically, was splendid. The production, created by Gerald Scarfe for Los Angeles Opera in 1992, is indeed magical, featuring a pyramid that can morph into many structures, a fabulous snake, a beguiling collection of hybrid animals (such as a giraffestrich on stilts and toe shoes), and quasi-Egyptian iconic lions.