Quartet Takes an Extra (Jazz) Bass to Bartók

September 30, 2014

United StatesUnited States Bartók: Calder Quartet (Andrew Bulbrook, Benjamin Jacobson, violins; Jonathan Moerschel, viola; Eric Byers, cello), Christian McBride (string bass), SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco. 24.9.2013 (HS) Read more

Gorgeously Sung ‘Norma’ in Listless Production

September 28, 2014

United StatesUnited States Bellini, Norma: Soloists, orchestra and chorus of San Francisco Opera, Nicola Luisotti (conductor), War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco. 23.9.2014 (HS)

Norma  Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) and Jamie Barton (Adalgisa). ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Norma
Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) and Jamie Barton (Adalgisa). ©Cory Weaver/     San Francisco Opera.

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With Rumpled Intensity, Skelton Soars as Grimes

June 30, 2014

United StatesUnited States Britten, Peter Grimes: Soloists, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor), Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. 26.6.2014 (HS)

The San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas perform Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes."  On Thursday night, June 26, 2014. PHOTO CREDIT:  Stefan Cohen

The San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas perform Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes.” On Thursday night, June 26, 2014. PHOTO CREDIT: Stefan Cohen

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Britten’s Inner Beauty Casts Its Spell

June 23, 2014

United StatesUnited States Copland, Britten, Shostakovich: Toby Spence (tenor), Robert Ward (horn), San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor), Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. 19.6.2014 (HS)

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Denk and Stucky Have Fun With ‘Classical Style’

June 23, 2014

United StatesUnited States Haydn, Stucky:  Brooklyn Rider (Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, violins; Nicholas Cords, viola; Eric Jacobsen, cello), soloists, The Knights (orchestra), presented by Cal Performances, Hertz Hall, University of California, Berkeley. 20.6.2013 (HS)

Ojai Music Festival: "The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts)" 6/11/14 Libby Bowl

Ojai Music Festival: “The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts)” 6/11/14 Libby Bowl

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Musical Theater Meets Opera in Colorful Show Boat

June 2, 2014

 Kern, Show Boat: Soloists, orchestra and chorus of San Francisco Opera, John DeMain (conductor), War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco. 1.6.2014 (HS)

Heidi Stober (Magnolia Hawks), Patricia Racette (Julie La Verne), Angela Renee Simpson (Queenie) and Morris Robinson (Joe) with chorus and dancers. ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Heidi Stober (Magnolia Hawks), Patricia Racette (Julie La Verne), Angela Renee Simpson (Queenie) and Morris Robinson (Joe) with chorus and dancers. ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

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Dutoit Fashions a Luminous Fauré Requiem

June 2, 2014

United StatesUnited States Poulenc, Stravinsky, Fauré: Susanna Phillips (soprano), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (baritone), San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Charles Dutoit (conductor), Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. 28.5.2014 (HS)

Poulenc: Gloria
Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
Fauré: Requiem

Conductor Charles Dutoit has, in previous appearances with the San Francisco Symphony, energized the music with a signature vital, propulsive approach. In Thursday’s first performance of a two-week residence with the orchestra, he seemed intent on going the opposite direction. Everything lingered. This time, suavity seemed the goal in three big liturgical works. When it all threatened to sink into a morass of slow tempos, he was saved by a miracle, otherwise known as the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, which stepped up to a starring role.

The capper was the lavishly beautiful balm of the Fauré Requiem, which occupied the second half of the program. Dutoit’s insistence on stretching things out paid dividends as the chorus enunciated every Latin word, shaped sinuous phrases and made gorgeous sounds ranging from airy quiet moments to sonorous climaxes. The orchestra, meanwhile, rode the slow tempos to bring an irresistible spaciousness and beauty to its sound.

In his version of the Catholic requiem mass, Fauré downplays the stern fear-inducing Dies irae, so irresistible to most composers from Mozart to Verdi, in favor of soul-calming comfort. As a friend remarked as we left the concert, “I feel absolved.” Dutoit seemed to tune into that thought and expand upon it, encouraging plush textures in both the orchestra and chorus.

The soprano soloist, Susanna Phillips, unfurled the silvery long line of Pie Jesu, the centerpiece of Fauré’s conception of the mass, with breathtaking serenity. Her sound meltingly tender, she marked each repeat of the two-line section with a different level of volume and intensity, creating a sumptuous musical arc. Baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann handled his assignment with reedy tone and a sense of refinement.

Philips also lent her pearl-like timbre to the opening work on the program, Poulenc’s Gloria. In this piece the composer seems to be seeking common ground between light-heartedness and piety, wrapped in Gallic charm. But at Dutoit’s tempos, the opening movement (Gloria) came off as ponderous, and the puckishness of the second (Laudamus te) felt forced. Phillips rescued the sluggish earnestness of the third (Domine fili unigenite) by floating a gorgeous long line over it all, with tender echoes from the chorus. And so it went, more deliberate devotion than charisma.

Stravinsky centers his Symphony of Psalms around the 150th, which includes the most extensive musical references of any—among them “Praise Him with the sound of trumpet,” “… with timbrel and choir,” “… with strings and organs.” As the chorus utters the words Stravinsky has the orchestra respond with an effusion of appropriate musical flourishes. Again, Dutoit’s slow tempos robbed these passages of their magic, despite the ebullient entreaties of the chorus’ marvelously shaped phrases, even dampening in the final “Alleluia.”

Everything in this concert was played with clarity and tonal balance and sung with precision, but it took the calming blankets of sound of the Fauré, and the presence of a really good chorus and soprano soloist, to provide the necessary solace.

Harvey Steiman

In Russian Program, Hvorostovsky Excels at Shostakovich

May 29, 2014

United StatesUnited States Glinka, Borodin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and others: Romances on Poems by Alexander Pushkin: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (bass baritone), Ivari Ilja (piano), Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. 25.5.2014 (HS) Read more

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