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!
With its concerts last weekend, the American Bach Soloists completed the fourth year of its Bach cycle, an elaborate multiseason project featuring a wide variety of the composer's most important works. The program on Saturday night at First Congregational Church in Berkeley was an exciting grab bag of instrumental music, featuring sinfonias from the cantatas BWV 174 and 42, the first Brandenburg Concerto (BWV 1046), the Concerto for Harpsichord and Two Recorders (BWV 1057), and the first Orchestral Suite (BWV 1066).
In a combination of community service and organizational preservation, on Sunday evening the San Francisco Academy Orchestra presented a concert in Calvary Presbyterian Church, to thunderous applause. Conductor Florin Parvulescu took on major repertoire with an orchestra made up of college students and recent graduates, infused with a few members of the San Francisco Symphony. The result was simply amazing.
Although Steven Isserlis had decided on his program long before hearing the sad news of Mstislav Rostropovich's death on April 27, his recital at Herbst Theatre on Thursday, which consisted entirely of Russian music for cello and piano, turned out to be a poignant and fitting homage to the great cellist and humanitarian. Isserlis had last been in town four years ago for performances with the San Francisco Symphony of Benjamin Britten's Cello Symphony, one of the many important 20th-century works written for and dedicated to Rostropovich.
There can be no denying that music plays a powerful role in inspiring political activism. But the marriage between social consciousness and music is more commonly associated these days with the protest songs of high-profile pop and folk artists like Joan Baez and the Dixie Chicks than the symphonies and improvisations of their counterparts from the classical and jazz worlds.
In his annual pilgrimage to the First Congregational Church in Berkeley last weekend, gambist extraordinaire Jordi Savall showed Berkeley a different side from his appearances of late. Friday night's Cal Performances program, titled "Marin Maris and Antoine Forqueray: L'Ange et le Diable," highlighted works by the two most famous viol players of the French Baroque. Minus the big band, and accompanied only by harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï and lutenist/guitarist Xavier Diaz-Latorre, the audience had the opportunity to experience the more intimate aspects of Savall's art.
Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama) delivers a decidedly mixed bag: a lush, gushingly romantic score, rich with gorgeous, often-sprawling arias and ensembles, married to a tryingly melodramatic and barely credible tale of love and obsession.
It is not every day that "Sylvan and Oceanic Delights" inhabit the halls of Berkeley's Northbrae Community Church, but a happy audience tasted those delights there Friday night. Northbrae's Haver Hall was outfitted to represent the Royal Hall of Naples on Carnival Sunday, 1620.
Bizet’s Carmen is an opera seething with emotion, drama, and theatricality, but it was only in the last two acts that these potent elements were fully realized at UC Davis’ production on Sunday at the Mondavi Center, which featured principals from the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows. The first half of the work seemed more like a tenuous dress rehearsal.
Berkeley Opera boasts that its new Romeo and Juliet, which opened on Saturday night at the Julia Morgan Theatre, is by William Shakespeare and Charles Gounod. And while that’s not entirely true, Artistic Director Jonathan Khuner and his fellow Bardolaters, Lyricist Amanda Moody and Stage Director John McMullen, have succeeded in shoving the work of the 16th-century English poet-dramatist and the 19th-century French musician onto the stage at the same time.
Christopher Maltman is a spellbinder — a British baritone with a voice at times honeyed, assertive, suave, dramatic, ethereal, and gutsy. Along with pianist Julius Drake, an appealingly muscular presence with superb fingers and a musical imagination equal to that of the singer, Maltman charmed continually. The duo wooed and won their audience in a well-chosen, artfully arranged San Francisco Performances program at Herbst Theatre on Sunday evening.