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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’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Friday, July 19, 2013
Jeffrey Thomas, director. American Bach Soloists Academy singers and instrumentalists

Director Jeffrey Thomas

BRILLIANT HANDEL ORATORIO COMPLETES ABS FESTIVAL

by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, July 19, 2013

Nearing the close of its “Festival and Academy 2013” the American Bach Soloists outdid themselves once again July 19 in its presentation of Handel’s oratorio Esther, with full house at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During his early years in England, Handel turned to Racine’s masque Esther for the seeds of what in his hands grew into a new genre -- the English oratorio. Because the Bishop of London forbade dramatic performances, Handel presented Esther in concert, to the delight of English audiences; and it became one of his most popular works.

Jeffrey Thomas, the exacting conductor of ABS, pulled out all the stops to showcase a glorious recreation of this towering work, drawing forth both power and nuance from the ensemble of over 25 singers and orchestra. In the Jewish tradition the tale of Esther is the basis for the celebration of Purim, the leading characters being Esther, the young Jewish wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus; Haman, chief advisor to the king; Mordecai, Esther’s cousin; and King Ahasuerus; Persian officers and Israelites also appear. It is Esther who, in appealing to Ahasuerus, saves her people from the murderous plotting of the vengeful Haman.

Many Academy students filled major roles beside ABS regulars, fitting in seamlessly. Of the 12 soloists, 9 were students. One would scarcely have suspected this in observing the level at which they performed. The drama of the recitatives and arias was enhanced by the chorus-- so polished, so precise-- charged with commenting on the events and with giving voice to secondary characters. This reviewer was reminded of the ancient Greek chorus.

Following an overture, featuring strings and two oboes playing three richly colored movements, the dramatic business opened with the evil Haman, embodied by the excellent young bass Benjamin Kazez decreeing “Pluck root and branch from out the land: Shall I the God of Israel fear?” The double basses and cellos formed a solid ground for his deep, expressive voice. Acting as Persian soldiers, the chorus then repeated Haman’s command, revealing themselves as conspiring with him.

Nola Richardson, the soprano playing the Second Israelite, delivered a charming aria, “Tune your harps to songs of praise!,” and her coloratura part was echoed by flute and harp in an intricate obbligato melody. Although powerful, Ms. Richardson’s voice was also flexible enough to negotiate the fluid passages. Handel was able to imbue his works with great humanity, enabling audiences to empathize with his characters, regardless of how formal or abstract the text might be. His music resonates with heartfelt emotion, whether soulful or joyous. For instance, countertenor William Sauerland, portraying the Third Israelite, issued the wrenching alarm “Haman has sent forth his decree: The sons of Israel all shall in one ruin fall,” followed by the chorus’s moving lament “Ye sons of Israel mourn, Ye never to your country shall return!”

Soprano Megan Chartrand sang the part of Esther with great skill and warmth, her aria “Tears assist me, pity moving, Justice cruel, fraud reproving,” in 6/8 time, was accompanied by two oboes whose beseeching melody wove around her words. Her voice is clear, controlled, beautiful, and expressive. The duet between Esther and King Ahasuerus, “Who calls my parting soul to death?” is one of the most touching, lyrical offerings in the second half of the oratorio, the strings’ soft, pulsing bowings intensifying the emotion.

In the chorus “He comes, he comes to end our woes,” two natural horns accompanied, adding their pungent sonorities to the orchestra’s firm support. These valveless “hunting horns” negotiated their part skillfully, echoing the orchestra’s swirling melodies for the words “earth trembles!”-- the chorus ending in a great fugue, each part (orchestra and chorus) delivered with impressive clarity of line.

Haman’s pleading aria, “Turn not O thy face away,” was accompanied by lyrically moving, sighing violins; while Esther responded with the aria “Flatt’ring tongue, no more I hear thee . . . Bloody wretch, no more I fear thee,” Ms. Chartrand cutting loose with impassioned bursts on the words “tyrant” and “bloody wretch” spurred the audience to the edge of their seats.

Throughout the entire work one was aware of the reliability of the bass instruments, the great basses, violone, and cellos, faithfully tracking dynamic nuances while enjoying the flawless support of bassoon, harpsichord and organ. These mainstays thus offered a perfect balance between faint timidity and strong, reassuring presence. Handel’s bass lines (arguably rivaled only by Bach’s) were indeed the foundation upon which
Esther unfolded. Steven Lehning, with his handsome eight-foot violone, leads the section with the confidence and sensitivity to be expected of a longtime ABS regular.

In the closing great chorus, a trumpet was added to punctuate the jubilance of triumph over evil: “Lord our enemy has slain” and “Let Israel songs of joy repeat.” Two bass singers, Andrew Padgett and Brian Mummert, proclaimed “Mount Lebanon his firs resigns, descend ye cedars, haste ye pines to build the temples of the Lord,” accompanied by trumpet and oboes. And at last the chorus sang, with orchestra, “For ever blessed by thy holy name, Let heav’n and earth his praise proclaim.” Just before the final few words, conductor Jeffrey Thomas brought the entire orchestra and chorus to a heartstopping Grand Pause, several seconds long, holding the audience spellbound one last time, before the release of completion.

Another ABS artistic triumph, and a lengthy standing ovation followed by the awed, grateful house.