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Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, November 19, 2011
Sonoma Bach Choir, Robert Worth, conductor. Carol Menke and Jenny Samuelson, sopranos; Karen Clark, mezzo-soprano; Scott Whitaker, tenor; Hugh Davies, bass

Alto Karen Clark

WHERE WERE YOU AT 22?

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where were you at 22? Just graduating from college and trying to find a job? Contemplating a trip around the world to discover yourself? Writing musical masterpieces that would endure for more than 300 years and counting?

If you’re Johann Sebastian Bach or Georg Friedrich Händel, the answers are no, no and yes. Born in the same year (1685) just 125 miles apart, their musical skills were such that both had obtained secure posts by the age of 22 and were already composing enduring works that have been in the repertoire ever since.

For their Nov. 19 concert at a packed St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Santa Rosa, the Santa Rosa Symphony and the Sonoma Bach Choir, conducted by Robert Worth, performed four of those works, all composed in 1707: Handel’s “Laudate pueri” and “Dixit Dominus” and Bach’s cantatas “Aus der Tiefen” and “Der Herr denket an uns.” The Händel pieces were composed during his sojourn in Rome, whereas the two cantatas are from Bach’s stay in Mühlhausen, a small town in eastern Germany.

All four works were originally intended for church performance, with the Händel specifically designated for a Carmelite Vespers celebration at an important Roman church and the Bach cantatas for a small-town penitential service and wedding, respectively. The contrasting purposes and settings are but one indication of the major differences between the works. The Händel pieces are big, bold and festive, whereas the Bach are introspective, restrained and sublime.

These qualities emerged in the performance. Choir, soloists and orchestra were most confident in the Händel pieces, particularly the “Dixit Dominus,” with its four-square writing, clear cadences and moments of obvious drama. In contrast, the Bach performances were more tentative, with a lack of certainty in some of the trickier choral passages and a tendency to drift.

Händel’s “Dixit Dominus” was the musical high point of the evening. This glorious psalm setting uses five soloists, orchestra and choir to illuminate the text of Psalm 110, whose opening verse is, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” These bellicose words found their musical equivalent in a dramatic opening in a minor key with strong entrances from the choir and exuberantly played lines from the strings. Mr. Worth kept the forces moving at a brisk pace, working up a sweat with pronounced strokes from his baton and occasional sweeping motions with both arms to indicate crucial moments.

The text for the second verse is similarly bellicose, but here Händel offers a gorgeous lyrical duet for cello and alto, featuring in this case alto Karen Clark and the Symphony’s new principal cellist, Adelle-Akiko Kearns. Both were outstanding, with Ms. Clark displaying a full-bodied voice with clear articulation and Ms. Kearns matching her note for note on a resonant, sweet-sounding instrument.

The remaining six sections of the “Dixit Dominus” featured fine solos from sopranos Carol Menke and Lindsey McLennan, tenor Scott Whitaker and bass Hugh Davies, alternating more or less with star turns for the choir. Despite having more than 40 voices, the choir clearly articulated most lines of the text, particularly in the sixth verse, where the line “conquassabit capita in terra multorum” (“He shall wound the heads of many countries”) was reiterated repeatedly, mimicking the blows inflicted by the Lord.

Near the end of the performance, a cell phone went off in the audience, thankfully in a pause between sections. Everyone listed attentively to the banal ringtone, which ultimately made the Händel sound all the better. The doxology of the last section is unrelenting, with voices entering again and again to stress the words “semper” (forever) and “Amen.” Mr. Worth, sweating profusely by this point, jumped up and down on the podium to keep the intricate machine moving forward. It was as fine a performance by the Bach Choir as I’ve heard, and there have been many.

In comparison to the “Dixit Dominus,” the singing and playing in the previous pieces were good but not as inspired. The Bach cantatas in particular lacked a certain crispness and authority. That may have been due to the sheer size of the choir, which was probably larger than the forces Bach contemplated, leading to some difficulty with the more intricate passage work. Nonetheless, there were some wonderful moments, such as the final chorus of “Der Herr denket” and the excellent tenor solo in “Aus der Tiefen.”

The concert began with several other excellent solos, all from soprano Carol Menke, the featured singer in Händel’s “Laudate pueri.” She displayed strong command of dynamics and intonation, with convincing crescendos on long notes and equally convincing softer passages. She was particularly good in the lower part of her range, as when singing, “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust.”

Despite that text, no dust was evident in any of the masterpieces on this program. One imagines they’ll still be dust-free 300 years from now.

The reviewer has sung in the Bach Choir and is currently singing in Circa 1600, a chamber choir conducted by Robert Worth.