Concert Review

ABS Performs Acis and Galatea

Nola_Richardson_3813* Notes *
This weekend American Bach Soloists is performing Händel's Acis and Galatea with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. During last night's Berkeley concert Jeffrey Thomas conducted a crisp, vibrant Acis and Galatea. All of the soloists sang with a fine lucidity and the chorus sounded decisive.

Nola Richardson (pictured left) had a lovely debut with ABS. Her Galatea is clear voiced and exact. Her Acis, Kyle Stegall, sounded pretty and light. Stegall's tenor contrasted nicely with Zachary Wilder's. The latter's sound is bright and his coloratura in "Consider, fond shepherd" was good. Bass Mischa Bouvier is an imposing Polyphemus. His trio with Richardson and Stegall was great.

The evening started with Bach. The violin soloist, Elizabeth Blumenstock, was not particularly precise but always quite lively. The recorders, played by Judith Linsenberg and Debra Nagy, sounded elegant, especially in the middle movement Andante.

* Tattling *
Parking by First Congregational was exceedingly difficult as there was a basketball game at nearby UC Berkeley.

The concert ended with an encore by the chorus and orchestra of "Happy We."


MTT Conducts L'Histoire du soldat

Mahler51213* Notes * 
This weekend Michael Tilson Thomas (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) is conducting seven members of the San Francisco Symphony in performances of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat. The vivid piece is narrated by Elvis Costello, who does a fine job declaiming his lines. Nick Gabriel (The Soldier) is earnest and Malcolm McDowell (The Devil) certainly is charming. It is adorable when MTT himself speaks the lines of The King in Part II. The playing is incisive and spirited. Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik sounded particularly lovely, as did clarinetist Carey Bell.

The performance starts with John Adams conducting his 1982 piece Grand Pianola Music, which is being recorded for future release. Adams addresses the audience before commencing the piece, explaining the genesis of the piece and its influences. He also notes a tuba solo in Part I, which he called a "bovine moment."

The work, in fact, is startlingly beautiful. The pianists, Orli Shaham and Marc-André Hamelin play cohesively. The orchestra, which included woodwinds, brass, and percussion, sound grounded. Synergy Vocals is wonderfully ethereal, the three singers make for haunting sirens.

* Tattling * 
The audience on the orchestra level was very quiet for the John Adams. For the most part people were also quiet for the Stravinsky, but a woman in Row W Seat 102 was compelled to whisper to those adjacent to her as the ensemble played in Part II.


Steven Isserlis at PBO

Steven_Isserlis_credit_Satoshi_Aoyagi1* Notes * 
Cellist Steven Isserlis (pictured left, photograph by Satoshi Aoyagi) is playing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the Bay Area starting with a performance at the SFJazz Center last night in San Francisco. The program is bookended with symphonies by Haydn, the first one being No. 57 in D major, and the second No. 67 in F major. The hall is designed for amplified music, so period instruments can sound rather crackly. However, the sound system can compensate for this, and the second Haydn piece seemed warmer and more resonant than the first.

Nicholas McGegan conducted a jovial and sprightly performance. Symphony No. 57 was a happy way to open. The tuning of the violin duet in Symphony No. 67 sounded a bit strange to me. But the trio that follows of concertmaster Katherine Kyme, principal second violinist Anthony Martin, and principal cellist Tanya Tomkins was beautiful.

Isserlis joined the orchestra for what was listed in the program as Luigi Boccherini's Concerto for Violoncello No. 7 in G major, but was actually Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Concerto for Violoncello in A major. Isserlis gave a sparkling performance, his playing has long lines and a beautiful legato. After intermission, Isserlis informed us we had been subject to a "ghastly hoax" and explained that the Boccherini was to come, as they had already played the Bach. The Adagio was especially lovely. Isserlis played an encore that involved much switching from pizzicato to arco.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and little electronic noise was noted.


Dutoit conducts Fauré's Requiem

Charles-Dutoit-4x6* Notes * 
At the moment, Charles Dutoit (pictured left) is conducting San Francisco Symphony in performances of Poulenc, Stravinsky, and Fauré. Poulenc's Gloria began the concert on Thursday. The orchestra sounded bright and the chorus was cohesive. The "Laudamus te" was particularly jaunty. The soloist, soprano Susanna Phillips, sounded gorgeous. The "Domine Deus" was clear and haunting.

The Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, took a bit to set up, as the piece does not have high strings and also requires two pianos. The flute, oboe, and bassoon had a lovely moment.

After intermission we heard Fauré's Requiem. The soloists were both strong. Bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann has a rich, powerful voice. Susanna Phillips sounded rather sublime as well. The dynamics of the piece were evident, and the chorus' pianissimo was impressive.

* Tattling * 
There was only a brief exchange around me by one couple at one point during the last piece.


Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans at PBO

Van de Sant Portrait new* Notes * 
The 2013-2014 season of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra ended with Vivaldi's only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie. The work features a few of the more unusual Baroque instruments. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock played viola d'amore in "Quanto magis generosa" and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich played a chalumeau in "Veni, veni, me sequere fida." Both of these arias are for Juditha, and were sung beautifully by mezzo-soprano Cécile van de Sant (pictured left) at Sunday's concert in Berkeley. Her voice is rich and smoky, with great resonance. The orchestra was in fine form, as was the chorus. One was especially impressed at how the chorus was able to nuance the different roles it played.

The rest of the singing was more than competent. Soprano Dominique Labelle sang the role of Juditha's handmaid Abra. Mezzo-soprano Diana Moore sang Holofernes with authority, she did a particularly nice rendition of "Seda, o cara, dilecta speciosa." Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux sounded bright as Vagaus, the squire of Holofernes. Her parts with the chorus were wonderful and her coloratura in "Quamvis ferro, et ense gravis" was incredible.

* Tattling * 
I was sandwiched between subscribers that talked over me before the performance, but were kindly apologetic about doing so. They did keep fairly quiet during the music. Someone's mobile telephone in Row F quacked while Holofernes sang recitative.

I was under the impression this performance would be two hours or perhaps two and a half hours long, but with a run time of three, I sadly had to leave at intermission.


Philippe Jaroussky & VBO at GMC

Philippe_jaroussky__c_simon_fowler_licensed_to_virgin_classics* Notes * 
Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (pictured left, photograph by Simon Fowler) is currently on tour with Orchestra Barocca di Venezia (VBO) and performed yesterday at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center. The program is entitled "A Legendary Battle: Farinelli & Porpora vs. Carestini & Händel" and includes instrumental works by both composers interspersed with eight arias written for castrasti. VBO seems to consist of a harpsichordist, eight violinists, two violists, two cellists, a bassist, a bassoonist, a lute player, two oboists, and two horns. The playing was best when the tempi were meant to be brisk and the volume loud. The quieter, slower Minuetto of Porpora's Overture from Il Germanico was slightly lax. The Largo e piano of Händel's Concerto Grosso in A Minor was unfocused compared to the Allegro movements that proceeded and followed it. Händel's Concerto Grosso in G Major has three Allegro movements, and certainly was the most charming of the instrumental selections.

Jaroussky sounded as sublime as ever. His voice has such an open ease to it. He sang Porpora's "Mira in cielo" from Arianna e Teseo and "Si pietoso il tuo labro" from Semiramide riconsciuta with haunting beauty. The two arias from Händel's Alcina, "Mi lusinga il dolce affeto" and "Stà nell'Ircana pietrosa tana" also came off well. The different colorings of the word "cacciator" in the latter alone were impressive. Likewise, after intermission Jaroussky did splendidly with Händel's "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Oreste and "Scherza infida" from Ariodante. The concert ended with two arias from Porpora's Polifemo and the encore was Geminiano Giacomelli's "Sposa, non mi conosci."

* Tattling * 
The audience members were, for the most part, quiet. No electronic noises were noted. The woman in the third row from the stage, Seat 9, insisted on talking to both her neighbors, one of whom was her daughter. She did stop vocalizing after being hushed twice, but also had the sniffles and may have fallen asleep. She and her daughter did have the good sense to leave after the interval.


ABS performs Magnificat

Bach-magnificat* Notes *
Last weekend American Bach Soloists performed a program consisting entirely of works by Johann Sebastian Bach. Last Sunday's San Francisco concert began with the very cheery and sycophantic "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!" The ensemble, conducted by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, played neatly. The tenor, Guy Cutting, was slightly blustery, while soprano Clara Rottsolk sounded quite clear. Countertenor Eric Jurenas has a somewhat manic edge to his voice, but was much easier to hear than baritone William Sharp, who would occasionally blend in with the orchestra. The chorus was lovely.

The Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor that followed featured flautist Sandra Miller, who played beautifully and was well-supported by the rest of the musicians. After intermission we heard the cantata "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir" and were invited to join in for the chorale. The evening ended with Magnificat. The playing was tidy. The soloists sounded wonderful together, the alto and tenor duet with Jurenas and Cutting was particularly nice, as was the trio with sopranos and alto.

* Tattling *
The audience was silent and attentive. I was impressed by how well the chorale went.


Boyce's Solomon at PBO

Van_doren* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra continued its 2013-2014 season with a set of performances entitled "Solomon in London." The San Francisco performance was again held at the SFJAZZ Center as Herbst Theatre undergoes a retrofit. The new venue lends the orchestra a more incisive sound, but Nicholas McGegan still gets his musicians to play with cheer and bounciness.

The concert started with William Croft's Burial Service, and McGegan dedicated this piece to Nelson Mandela, rather than Stanley's Concerto for Strings in B Minor, Op. 2, No. 2, which came later in the evening.

The main attraction of the concert was William Boyce's Solomon. The piece certainly has some amusing lines, and PBO played with vim. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (pictured above) and tenor Thomas Cooley seemed to have fun singing together. They clearly listened to each other. Van Doren sounded strong but had a bird-like quality as well. Cooley's high notes ring out but his lower ones do get a bit lost.

* Tattling * 
I was scolded for refused to take a disposable plastic bag for my umbrella and had to explain that the umbrella was going into my backpack straightaway, as I am, at the moment, the last person who wants to slip and fall.


Luisotti Conducts Verdi's Requiem

Luisotti-baton* Notes * 
Last night Nicola Luisotti conducted Verdi's Messa da Requiem at the War Memorial Opera House with the combined orchestras and choruses of Real Teatro di San Carlo and San Francisco Opera. The volume was occasionally deafening, especially the repeated part when the chorus sings "Dies irae" and the trumpets play. The piece felt a bit chaotic, but there were lovely moments, as with the bassoons.

The soloists had to sing with a lot of power to be heard. Vitalij Kowaljow sounded grave and authoritative. Michael Fabiano was strong and bright. Margaret Mezzacappa's voice could have been richer, she sounds rather soprano-like in this work. Leah Crocetto sounded celestial and well-supported, and sang beautifully with the chorus in the "Libera me."

* Tattling * 
The War Memorial was completely full; the stage, seats, and standing room areas seemed at capacity. The mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, gave a halting speech before the performance, while Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris gave a more fluid one, translated by the Consul General of Italy, San Francisco, Mauro Battocchi. Someone in one of the choruses took a flash photograph of the scene.

The audience on the orchestra level was rather silent and still. The ushers, who had no place to sit, felt it was appropriate to talk to each other during the music.


Pergolesi's Stabat Mater at PBO

Carolyn_Sampson_cr_Marco_Borggreve* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2013-2014 season opened with a set of performances entitled "Pergolesi in Naples." The San Francisco performance was held at the SFJAZZ Center, which has an intimate feel and a dry, crackly acoustic. Maestro Nicholas McGegan described Pergolesi's Sinfonia from L'Olimpiade as having "vim and spritz," the Händel duets and arias as being "jolly and miserable" in turn, Durante's Concerto for Strings No. 2 in G minor as "chromatic and slithery," and explained that Pergolesi wrote his Stabat Mater just before he died at the age of 26. The playing sounded a bit harsher and less resonant in this venue compared to the Herbst Theatre or First Congregational, but is a far more comfortable than the former as far as seating and air flow. McGegan has his own very distinctive cheerful style and the orchestra still sounded jaunty and lilting.

I enjoyed hearing the Händel played by this orchestra, as there was never a dull moment. Though I know the pieces quite well, having heard Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare live on multiple occasions, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra brought a certain freshness to them. Soprano Carolyn Sampson (pictured above, photograph by Marco Borggreve) and countertenor David Daniels blended nicely in "Io t'abbraccio." They clearly listened to each other. Daniels sounded fairly hearty in this space, and did not have to employ much vibrato. Sampson was delightful in "Da tempeste," and it would be great to hear her sing the entire role of Cleopatra. Her voice has a sultry warmth but sparkling high notes.

The Stabat Mater was exuberant, the light music is mostly happy with a few moments of seriousness, and then rather triumphant. The orchestra never overwhelmed the singers. The singing went smoothly.

* Tattling * 
One of the ushers behind us in Row M seemed to speak at full-volume even when musicians were playing quietly. There was also some sort of incident with a microphone during the Presto of Durante's Concerto.


Eschenbach conducts Wagner & Dvořák

CE-IMG_2186-Eric-Brissaud* Notes * 
This week Christoph Eschenbach (pictured left, photograph by Eric Brissaud) conducts San Francisco Symphony in performances of Wagner and Dvořák. The two Wagner pieces included "Die Frist is um" from Der Fliegenden Holländer and Wotans Abschied from Die Walküre, with baritone Matthias Goerne as soloist. Goerne sounded characteristically legato. He was drowned out by the brass, and in fact the whole volume of the orchestra was rather loud. There was an obvious sour note in the second piece. There were moments when the first violins had a lovely, open sound, but the low strings were a bit muddy.

After intermission came Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, From the New World. Again, the powerful volume of the orchestra was impossible to ignore. I found myself distracted by the absence of William Bennett's oboe playing, as this was the first time I have heard San Francisco Symphony since his death.

* Tattling * 
There was some chatter, but nothing too obnoxious.


Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Sinfoniekonzert 4

Jansons_BR_02* Notes * 
Mariss Jansons and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Bayerischer Rundfunk) performed Shostakovich and Beethoven as the closing concert of this year's Lucerne Festival zu Ostern. The orchestra played Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54 first. The piece is quite odd, having a vernal, yet dark quality to it. The playing all around was splendid. The brass was clean but warm, the woodwinds gleamed, the strings shimmered, and the whole sound came together perfectly.

During intermission, the orchestra was rearranged to have first and second violins on the outside, the violas next to the seconds, and the celli next to the firsts. Before the violas had been downstage, the celli next to them, and the seconds next to the firsts. To end we heard Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Jansens seems to have immaculate control of the orchestra, and the musicians played evenly, with precision, but much bright richness as well. I was impressed by how good the horn sounded, and how the piccolo, which seemed sinister in the Shostakovich, sounded perfectly bird-like in the Beethoven.

* Tattling * 
There was light whispering and some coughs during the music, but this was only a minor nuisance.


Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Chorkonzert 4

Mariss-jansons* Notes * 
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and the Tölzer Knabenchor were conducted by Mariss Jansons (pictured left) in Britten's War Requiem op. 66 at Lucerne Festival Saturday evening. The orchestra sounded secure and polished. The brass fanfares in the Dies irae were particularly fine. The chorus was perfectly good. The boys' choir sang from backstage and sounded eerie.

The soloists sang well. Emily Magee's icy soprano was somewhat shrill in the Liber scriptus, but sounded creamier as the piece proceeded. The contrast of her voice with the warmth of the chorus was unnerving. Christian Gerhaher's voice is also pleasantly warm, complimentary to both the soprano and tenor. "Out there, we walked quite friendly up to death" was especially beautiful. Tenor Mark Padmore sounded otherworldly in this, and seemed incorporeal throughout the work, as suits Britten. The Lacrimosa with soprano and chorus interspersed with Padmore's solo "Move him, move him" was sublime.

* Tattling * 
This year's common cold features a terrible cough, and this was on full display at between the six movements of the War Requiem. The audience in the third balcony was quiet during the music, but the man in Row 4 Seat 13 clapped (and screamed) at a painful volume during the final ovation.


Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Chorkonzert 3

John-eliot-gardiner* Notes * 
John Eliot Gardiner conducted (pictured left, photograph by Sheila Rock / Decca) English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir in Johannes-Passion BWV 245 at Lucerne Festival Friday night. The playing was crisp and genial, and any intonation errors were within reason given the period instruments. The singing was lucid and very much together. The choir has a gorgeous, clean sound.

The soloists are all fine singers. Hannah Morrison sang the soprano aria "Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten" with a spring-like freshness. Meg Bragle sang "Es ist vollbracht!" with strength. Tenor Nicolas Mulroy (Evangelist) was only slightly quiet when singing with the full ensemble, otherwise his voice is pleasant, while Andrew Tortise sounded sweet singing the tenor arias. Dietrich Henschel (Jesus) and Peter Harvey (Pontius Pilate and bass arias) made for a good contrast vocally.

* Tattling * 
The woman in Gallery 3 Left Seat 16 spoke on a few occasions during the music, while the men in Seats 19 and 20 tended to only whisper slightly. There were a lot of coughs when the orchestra was tuning between parts.


Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Sinfoniekonzert 2

Orchestra-mozart2* Notes * 
Claudio Abbado and Orchestra Mozart Bologna (pictured left, photograph by Marco Caselli Nirmal) played a second concert at Lucerne Festival last night. The program started with Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2, played with a smooth lucidity. Martha Argerich returned to the KKL Konzertsaal stage to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20. Both soloist and the orchestra played with a remarkable intensity. Argerich plays with such wonderful dexterity and economy of movement, yet with great vitality as well. Excerpts from the incidental music to Rosamunde opened the second half of the concert. The woodwinds sounded verdant. The pianissimo moments in the orchestra were particularly gorgeous. The evening was rounded out by a stunning rendition of Beethoven's Symphony No. 4. The sound was marked by a singular clarity of line and phrasing. The dynamic contrasts were clear. The strings played beautifully in the Allegro ma non troppo.

* Tattling * 
The galleries can be quite nice to sit in, as there are fewer audience members about to misbehave. The view of Martha Argerich's hands from where we were sitting was rather good.