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!
If noble titles were given as rewards for excellence, the FOG Trio would be royalty. While "FOG" also indicates the trio's connections with San Francisco, the name is formed by the players' last names: F is for violinist Jorja Fleezanis (former San Francisco Symphony associate concertmaster), O is for world traveler/San Francisco resident pianist Garrick Ohlsson, G is for San Francisco Symphony principal cellist Michael Grebanier. W is for Wow.
Brahms chamber music seems to be breaking out unnervingly in threes this season. First it was the three string quartets on a single program (the Emerson Quartet, in October). Coming up in February are the three piano trios (Nicholas Angelich and the brothers Capuçon, courtesy of San Francisco Performances).
'Tis the season to be singing, and Schola Cantorum has made its contribution to this year's choral celebrations in performances presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society and ably directed by Paul Flight. Saturday's concert at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley was especially welcome to lovers of the motet O Magnum Mysterium, by Tomás Luis de Victoria, who used musical material from it in his Missa O Magnum Mysterium .
Splitting his program right down the middle, pianist William Wellborn devoted the first half of his Sunday afternoon recital in Old First Church to 18th-century masters and the second to 19th-century composers. In place of the all-Beethoven program that had been announced, Wellborn programmed his pieces to display contrasts. It made for some intriguing comparisons.
Tonal balance and homogeneity of sound, rather than sharply etched lines, seem to be the hallmark of the best of the current string quartets. The estimable Jupiter String Quartet provided three casebook examples of this in its concert last Monday at the Napa Opera House. The 10-concert series of Chamber Music of Napa Valley, managed by John Kongsgaard, is in its 28th season, and sells out each house to an emphatically enthusiastic (but aging) group of chamber music aficionados.
How to program something novel for the holidays is a challenge almost every choral conductor faces at year's end. Fortunately, there always seems to be an endless supply of untapped or little-heard repertory from which to draw and innumerable ways to combine music from a diverse cross section of centuries or cultures into a satisfying whole.
Of the great Christian holidays, Christmas affords composers perhaps the greatest range between grandeur and simplicity. At one end, the whole of Creation rejoices; at the other, a tiny infant in a hovel is the linchpin of all things. The Christmas music we are most likely to encounter in concert this time of year is of the resplendently rejoicing sort, yet some ensembles have given thought to music of a more intimate kind.
How many singers have chosen to center their Bay Area recitals around Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe (Poet's love)? Last year, baritones Gerald Finley, Daniel Cilli, and Thomas Hampson, as well as tenor Rolando Villazón, gave this defining cycle of 16 songs a shot. Gazing back as far as 2001, the list is swelled by baritones Wolfgang Holzmair, Matthias Goerne, Christópheren Nomura, Randall Scarlata, Brad Alexander, Wolfgang Brendel, and Jonathan Lemalu, tenor Ian Bostridge, and lyric sopranos Christine Schäfer and Barbara Bonney.
Strangely enough, listening to achingly poignant music can be pleasantly addictive at times. Rather than making you disheartened, sometimes such music seems to uplift. Pieces with wide emotional contrasts can heighten the boost, as moments of blitheness offer easy respite from the solemnity. Heavy contrasts, though, require musicians who can move from lugubrious to lighthearted without missing a beat.