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!
“Was he hitting all the notes?” I asked the highly respected Bay Area pianist who was assiduously following Messiaen’s score in the seat in front of me at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall.
“Hitting all the notes?” he replied with more than a touch of incredulity. “I’m too busy trying to figure out the rhythms!”
Early music aficionados across the Bay Area would have been wise to circle American Bach Soloists' January performance of J.S. Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorio (Christmas oratorio) on their calendars. This impressive work, a collection of six cantatas historically designated for performance between Christmas and Epiphany, isn't often mounted outside the month of December.
What do a Stalin-era Russian composer and a contemporary British rock band have in common? That was the intriguing question posed by Christopher O’Riley in a piano recital last Wednesday at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium in Palo Alto. Part of the Stanford Lively Arts series, the program consisted solely of preludes and fugues from the Op. 87 cycle by Shostakovich, and O’Riley’s solo piano arrangements of songs by Radiohead.
A fairly standard lineup: Wagner, Bach, Mendelssohn, and a new work having its first West Coast performance. A predictable response: moderate applause for the Wagner, a loyal standing ovation for the concertmaster soloist in the Bach, an enthusiastic reception for the Mendelssohn — and a tepid "So what?" for the new piece. And a systemic shame: The new work, a great work, a work that should have a chance to sneak up and possess its listeners, is left in the dust due to insufficient exposure.
Last week the San Francisco Symphony offered up two quite different versions of what the ascent to heaven sounds like. Under the direction of guest conductor Myung-Whun Chung, the orchestra performed an innovative program that featured Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 ("Titan"). While the pieces were performed with virtuosity by both conductor and orchestra, the performance on Saturday fell just this side of the pearly gates.
In a recital by tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake devoted entirely to Schubert songs, it was, strangely, the piano that shone. Not strange, of course, that the piano was a vital part of the performance of the songs: Schubert's accompaniments, after all, are full partners, sometimes offering comment, or warning or sympathizing with the protagonist, along the lines of a Greek chorus, or even at times revealing things the protagonist is unaware of.