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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.