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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

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.