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!
Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas opened two weeks of his minifestival of Stravinsky-Plus-One last week in Davies Symphony Hall. The San Francisco Symphony programs of both last week and this week are essentially a survey of Stravinsky's wide interests, but with each program offering an important piece by one other composer. What makes such adventures so unusual is how well local audiences eat up such programming in big gulps, especially when the results are as exhilarating as they were at the Thursday matinee.
With the announcement that 2008 will mark the farewell of the Beaux Arts Trio, its every remaining performance is precious. Cofounded in 1955 by pianist Menahem Pressler, who remains with the group (in his 84th year), the Beaux Arts Trio has, for many of us, served as a model of great piano trio interpretation.
Measha Brueggergosman is a trip. A statuesque soprano with a larger than life personality, her eye-catching hair, nose ring, huge smile, and propensity to perform barefoot toy with us as if to say, "Here I am, boys and girls. Accept me on my own terms or be on your way."
An ad hoc chamber group can sometimes be more interesting to listen to than a full-time professional quartet. With the latter, you get glossy perfection, with every detail planned in the course of endless hours of rehearsal. But when local artists get together and prepare a program for a single performance, you can feel the drama and spontaneity that was part of the 19th-century musical environment.
Pocket Opera's concert-version of Handel's Flavio, presented on Saturday at the Florence Gould Theater in the Legion of Honor, combined humor, drama, and musicianship, all signatures of Donald Pippin's company. The occasional uneven moments didn't significantly hamper the enjoyable performance.
In the 40 or so years that I've been attending Richard Goode's concerts, none has failed to challenge me to hear music with fresh ears. His solo recital Monday night at Davies Symphony Hall, presented by San Francisco Performances, was no exception. In an unusual program featuring shorter works from Mozart to Debussy, Goode revealed that the intimate can be as provocative and compelling as the lengthy sonatas that form the basis of his repertoire.
Having people over for the first time can be a trial. You don't know whether to say a convivial "pleased to meet you," or sit on your hands. Last week, the San Francisco Symphony's first-time guest, 54-year-old Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, did not get the full red carpet treatment from his hosting band, but he did seem to get their undivided, professional attention.
The historic love-hate relationship between England and France found a musical solution Friday in Old First Church, when artists affiliated with the San Francisco Opera presented a mixed program of almost entirely 20th-century vocal works as their "Basically British X" program. Among the four composers, two are giants (Ravel and Britten), another is a venerable master (Elgar), and one is an also-ran: Gerald Finzi, who is really not in their company.
Everything came together beautifully in the finale of Thursday’s concert by the New Century Chamber Orchestra at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, and it was Paul Hindemith’s strikingly original concerto for piano and strings, The Four Temperaments, that was the catalyst. Composed in 1940 as a dance score for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, it became a signature work for the company in Balanchine’s distinctive choreography, and remains in their repertory to this day.
Ah, a Takács Quartet recital. Another few months gone (the violist-groupie in me thinks), another rare chance to hear Geraldine Walther play. Only I find that I'm not really thinking about the Takács' visits like that anymore. Walther is a great violist, but the Takács with her in it is something more interesting — a great quartet, and one that seems to become greater by the minute. Sunday's all-Beethoven recital, presented by Cal Performances at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, the last we'll hear from this quartet for some time locally, found the players working at a fearsomely high level.