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 decade or so back, there was some talk of a planned, independent-label Beethoven symphony cycle from Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, all the recording to be done in concert. Since then, PBO has taken to issuing live recordings on its own label, and the Beethoven project appears to be taking slow shape. A disc coupling the "Eroica" and the Eighth Symphony appeared in 2005, and last year was joined by this Ninth.
Listen to the Music
I came in hopes of a full solo recital from Leon Fleisher at Herbst Theatre on Saturday. I left grateful that Fleisher is back and in fine form as a soloist, and that he shared the stage with his wife, the pianist Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. The program included two late masterpieces by Schubert: one for piano duet, one solo. It was a combination that brought to life the rich outpouring of music that was Schubert’s crowning achievement and demonstrated that, two-handed or four-handed, it is the heart that counts.
As the musical establishment for England’s monarchy, the Chapel Royal has played host to some of that nation’s most renowned musicians, from Thomas Tallis and William Byrd to Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Nowadays the latter two figures stand unequivocally as the pride of the English Baroque, so it seemed appropriate that Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s program should accentuate these composers’ more lively side.
Last Wednesday, it was Laura Jackson’s turn to impress the Berkeley Symphony audience and perhaps follow Kent Nagano as music director. Hugh Wolff and Guillermo Figueroa showed their stuff earlier this season, and three more candidates are going to do the same this fall. How did she measure up? Let’s examine the criteria of programming choices, technique, interpretation, and orchestral management.
Friday night’s performance by Europa Galante offered a long-awaited opportunity to hear some of the most colorful performers on today’s early-music scene. The orchestra’s appealing program, played on Baroque period instruments, made it easy to see why director-violinist Fabio Biondi’s exploration of unfamiliar repertoire and his imaginative rethinking of venerable warhorses like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons have drawn such a popular following.
By the time an erstwhile hot young virtuoso has lived through a couple decades of concertizing, whatever keeps you still listening is necessarily something other than hotness, youth, or virtuosity. Sometimes, to be sure, even the youth and the hotness persist longer than you would think possible. (Joshua Bell remains implausibly fresh and cute; I say nothing of the enchanted portrait obviously hidden in Ian Swensen's closet.)
Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack comes from Buenos Aires, and her home is now in San Francisco, but her future is in the great opera houses and recital halls of the world. Her Schwabacher Debut Recital Sunday only confirmed what her Merola Program appearances last year — especially in the title role of La cenerentola — clearly indicated: She is a phenomenon.
"Indigenous Instruments," composer Steve Mackey writes of one of his pieces, "is vernacular music from a culture that doesn't actually exist." But at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall on Friday, the audience was able to catch aural samples of familiar vernacular music. Echoes of rock and jazz jostled with idioms of 20th-century art music in four works by Mackey, performed by Citywater and the Sacramento State Percussion Group.
Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony is his longest work, and from Mahler, who was never brief, that's really saying something. It's six movements long and takes about an hour and three-quarters to perform. The Third requires a large orchestra, including eight French horns (who blast out the opening theme in unaccompanied unison) and four each of most of the other winds and brass.