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!
Sometimes it's better not to know too much of what goes on behind the scenes in the making of a performance. History is replete with examples of acrimonious, not to say borderline murderous, artistic partnerships resulting in splendid performances (and, for that matter, of unfailingly genial partnerships that never managed to spark).
You don't have to be a critical genius to figure out that Talise Trevigne, the star of San Francisco Lyric Opera's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor has a major-league voice and star quality to match. She lit a fire under Saturday's satisfying, if basic, performance at the Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor. But hers was far from the only positive contribution of the evening. This is a well-tuned show, amply repaying its bargain-basement ticket price.
Seeing and hearing is believing, though evidence from these senses is sometimes hard to balance against a third kind of sense: the common kind. A pertinent example of this occurred Sunday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, when the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra mounted the stage to perform two major repertory pieces, against considerable odds. Its 25th anniversary program offered performances of music that many professional orchestras might well fear to tread, yet the instrumentalists pulled it off with real class.
The pastiche choral work has a less-than-illustrious history. To my knowledge, there are only a couple of good repertory pieces to come out of such an enterprise — the Libera me from Verdi’s Requiem (composed as part of a never-premiered composite Mass by many Italian composers to commemorate the death of Rossini in 1864), and Stravinsky’s Tower of Babel (part of a 1940s Hollywood fiasco in which a string of Hollywood composers wrote an oratorio on the story of the creation and Schoenberg wrote the depiction of chaos).
Last Friday marked the final concert of Oakland East Bay Symphony’s 2006-2007 season, but it also marked the beginning of its newest initiative, the "American Masterworks Series," which will continue in upcoming seasons. Choosing works that live up to this title is a trickier task than you might expect, as the Pulitzer Prize committee found out three years ago when it controversially expanded the scope of the music prize to include the more “popular” genres of jazz, Broadway, and film music. What should be included in "American" music?
On Sunday afternoon at Old First Church, composer Elinor Armer faced the risks inherent in any recital dedicated to a single composer's work. She must have come away from it with an enhanced sense of achievement, because the program's seven compositions were well-performed, enthusiastically received, and richly indicative of her talent and accomplishments. The concert was titled "Bestiary," referring to several of the pieces that were composed in homage to creatures real and imaginary.
Chamber Music San Francisco's director, Daniel Levenstein, seems to favor loud Slavs. Soon after an eardrum-shattering recital by pianist Nikolai Demidenko, in which he pounded out Bach and Schumann with the same force that Samson used to topple the temple, we get powerhouse tenor Vladimir Kuzmenko. The Ukraine-born singer, who joined the Kiev Opera as principal tenor on graduation from the Kiev Conservatory, has since been feted as "Leading Artist of the Ukraine" and principal tenor of the Warsaw National Opera, and has sung in a number of notable houses.
You may notice her 6-foot-plus height first, but when Kendall Gladen begins to sing, she makes another, far more important impression. Even at an age that's young for a mezzo, and at the beginning of her career, Gladen has the "it" of the It Girl, a certain something, the je ne sais quoi. She had fierce, if collegial, competition Monday night: four excellent singers from the San Francisco Opera Center, at a concert closing the Music at Meyer season in Temple Emanu-El's Martin Meyer Sanctuary. Soprano Heidi Melton has a huge, rafter-shaking voice.
Chamber music, by definition, should be intimate and personal for both the musicians and the audience. And few Bay Area groups have mastered the art of intimate, welcoming entertainment like the Gold Coast Chamber Players, as they again proved on Saturday in "Magic Flute," the second of their three-concert 2007 season. Playing in the compact auditorium of the Bentley School in Lafayette, the group unwrapped a full bouquet of a program for an appreciative audience, which included, happily, a sprinkling of younger faces, all of them looking pleased to be there.
No music makes a bigger statement than the brassy sunrise of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. Because tour programs are generally about making statements, the extravagant tone poem based on Nietzsche's extravagantly confident philosophy is music befitting the San Francisco Symphony's current itinerary. This week the orchestra heads to New York, Vienna, and Prague with the Strauss showpiece in the music folders, but on the basis of Saturday's concert at Davies Symphony Hall, its big statements will be made by the "little" moments.