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!
Mythological absurdities, deadly rivalries, and over-the-top emotion — topped by the 20-minute death throes of oversize sopranos — are familiar opera cliches. But these cliches often ignore the bubbling stream of comedy that flows through the works of Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti, and even those of Wagner, Verdi, Massenet, and Puccini.
What do you know: a grand operatic discovery at a chamber-music concert. But consider the source. He was both the "Paganini of the Double Bass" and the conductor of the Cairo premiere of Verdi's Aida. He was a composer who went on stage with the double bass at the intermissions of performances he conducted, to play fantasies on the opera's themes.
Animals, anthropomorphic and otherwise, were honored in the marvelously performed and interesting second program of the increasingly well-heeled [email protected] festival. A large and enthusiastic crowd was particularly pleased with the final number, Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, but every selection was well-received, enjoyed by audience and musicians alike. In a production of this quality, I can only take issue with minor points of promotion, interpretation, and instrumentation.
Mozart's music and reputation were extremely well-served Friday evening in Herbst Theater as George Cleve conducted a beautifully built concert of the Midsummer Mozart Festival. The concert offered two well-known major masterpieces and two short but rarely encountered arias. To the program, which was dedicated to the late soprano Beverly Sills, Cleve and his soprano soloist added a special little surprise: an encore aria popularized in the States by Sills.
Monday’s opening concert of the [email protected] festival, at St. Mark’s Church in Palo Alto, packed a fair amount of contrast into one evening. Thirteen performers, of whom only one appeared in more than one work, presented a program of one duo (for two violins), one trio (for piano and strings), one string quartet, and one wind quintet. Each of the four works acknowledged the concert’s theme of “Homage” in a different manner. And the two principal works were played in strikingly different styles.
The Napa Valley's second annual Festival del Sole continued last Wednesday with another stellar performance by the Russian National Orchestra in Yountville's Lincoln Theater. Guest soloists Joshua Bell on violin and Nina Kotova on cello joined the orchestra, which was conducted by Nicola Luisotti, who has been appointed music director of the San Francisco Opera, effective with the 2009-2010 season.
On a January morning a few years ago, I received a telephone call from an eminent professor of classical music. "Guess whose birthday it is!" he giggled. "No idea." His hint, "Your least favorite of the great composers!" caused me to reply, "Ah — it must be Mozart!"
The world of music has several types of 22-year-old composers — brash, confident ones; shy, talented ones; and painfully insecure ones who look to the past and worry that they were born several generations too late.
Last Thursday, the Carmel Bach Festival presented works by each of these types. The program, made up of pieces composed in 1707 by composers who were 22 during that year, highlighted not only the shifting trends in music at the time but also the personalities of the composers themselves.
Time was when piano recitals would end with a rousing performance of a Hungarian rhapsody, an etude, or the Mephisto Waltz by Franz Liszt as a surefire way to bring the audience to its feet. Christopher Taylor, who last year in Berkeley played all three books of etudes by another Hungarian, Györgi Ligeti, once again put himself to the test, this time in the Napa Valley Opera House last Thursday, playing all 12 of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies at the Festival del Sole.
I don't know how many Danielle de Nieses there are, but I have already heard two of them. The first was a terrific Cleopatra in a remarkable presentation of excerpts from Handel's Giulio Cesare in Calistoga's Castello di Amorosa on July 14. The second appeared a week later in an hour-long song recital, in the Napa Valley Opera House, accompanied by Royal Opera House Music Director Antonio Pappano. As the French say, Quel difference! But there was no Vive for this performance.