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!


Archive Review
January 29, 2008

“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!”

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

It’s always worth braving the elements to hear Verdi’s Requiem Mass, a score that is equally elemental and multifaceted. The work’s accessibility and its many emotional moods brings out the best in any chorus and orchestra.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

In spite of wet weather, a large and enthusiastically youthful audience gathered at Mills College's Lisser Hall on Saturday to hear the music of Helmut Lachenmann, an admired German avant-gardist, and currently the school's composer in residence. Born in 1935, he studied with Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the late 1950s, attracted by the experimentalism of the times, which has deeply influenced his own work.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

Is it possible to move in two directions simultaneously? Generally, you move either forward or backward. Moving in both directions at the same time seems appreciably trickier, and maybe even impossible outside the realm of quantum physics.

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Archive Review
January 22, 2008

Friday night's concert of the ensemble Adesso at Old First Church showcased an eclectic selection of music. The pieces programmed doubtless had little in common, but the quality of the playing made the evening hang together nevertheless.

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