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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...
Chamber
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
Recital
KENNER'S ALL POLISH RECITAL HAS PADEREWSKI RARITY
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Kevin Kenner’s April 8 recital at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall had been advertised as all-Chopin, but he added a detour into another seminal Polish composer-pianist, Paderewski. Several of Mr. Kenner’s teachers were Poles, he speaks Polish, and he navigated at the piano both composers’ deman...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Chamber
VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018
At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schro...
Choral and Vocal
GOOD FRIDAY REQUIEM FILLS INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 30, 2018
Maurice Duruflé’s short and intense Requiem has been heard in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation before, but the March 30 Good Friday performance was stripped down in the number of performers, combining Cantiamo Sonoma and the St. Cecilia Choir with musical underpinning from organist Robert Youn...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Recital
VIRTUOSIC VARIATIONS IN MORGAN'S SCHROEDER ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Organist Robert Huw Morgan’s artistry spun through the web of early variation form in a Mar. 18 recital on Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh organ. Mr. Morgan, Stanford University’s resident organist, performs a wide range of repertoire, but as he said in comments to the audience, he loves when h...
Symphony
ORFF AND HINDEMITH SONIC SPLENDOR AT FINAL SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts are continually artistically successful but on the Santa Rosa High School’s stage the orchestra rarely numbers above 40, and in the 900-seat hall audiences can be scant. Violinists can be in short supply. An opposite scene occurred at the March 17/18 concert set...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Saturday, December 14, 2013
American Bach Soloists Choir, Jeffrey Thomas, conductor. Shawnette Sulker, soprano; John Thiessen, trumpet

Jeffrey Thomas and the ABS Chorus Dec. 14 in Belvedere

A MARIN MUSICAL FEAST IN ABS SILVER ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 14, 2013

It was a “coming home for Christmas” event Dec. 14 when the American Bach Soloists (ABS) launched their 25th season with a glorious concert in Belvedere’s St. Stephens Church. The ABS was founded in 1989 in this venue, and chose the fortress-like church for presenting two Bach cantatas and a bevy of holiday music by seven composers.

Beginning with the fifth segment (“Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen”) of the massive six-part Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, the ABS partnered this 11-section cantata in the first half with the popular cantata “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!” (BWV 51). Both received sterling performances in a church where the reverberation time is short. The broad acoustics were further diminished by a packed audience of 300 in heavy winter garb.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas’s control of the complicated counterpoint was masterful throughout the evening, albeit with a minimum of overt gestures and only a sporadic and elegant use of his left arm to shape a desired sweeping melodic phrase. A small organ amid the instrumentalists, played by Corey Jamason, provided continuo and was often in ensemble with cellist William Skeen, oboist John Abberger and lead violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock. Mr. Skeen played with considerable volume and deft phrasing, especially in a lovely trio in the Choral (4th part) with countertenor Eric Jurenas and tenor Aaron Sheehan. In a following section Ms. Blumenstock’s extended opening solo blended with the added organ part, with chaste subsequent entrances by the cello, bassist Steven Lehning and three singers.

The 28-member chorus sang radiantly with only a rare ragged cutoff. It was an exemplary performance promising more delicious Bach to come.

In the second cantata, soprano Shawnette Sulker and Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen were the soloists in the short but virtuosic work from 1730, with a reduced orchestra. Ms. Sulker mastered the high tessitura and florid scales, though her lower register and diction tended to be indistinct, at least from my corner seat seven rows back. But why look for spots in the sun? The vocal pyrotechnics were thrilling, as were Mr. Thiessen’s shorter but equally demanding brass solos. The Baroque trumpet is not as piercing or loud as a modern valved trumpet, but in many ways the sound blended perfectly. Ms. Sulker’s stamina was tested in the third section aria where in a long passage, sung in one breath, her voice soared over the organ and the statuesque Mr. Thomas, the latter standing majestically with hands at his sides.

ABS concerts cater generously to loyal supporters, exemplified this evening by a lavish program booklet and an extended intermission reception with ample gratis holiday food and beverages.

The well-fed audience returned to the sanctuary for a veritable feast of music that was Christmas in theme but also joyously contemporary, save for the iconic "Silent Night." Franz Gruber’s 1818 carol was performed with a slow tempo and arresting major-minor harmonies, augmented by intriguing and matched solo singing from Ms. Sulker and Mr. Sheehan.

The entirely choral second part contained richly-hued singing of Rutter’s “Musica Dei Donum” and “Come Down, O Love divine”; three carol anthems from Herbert Howells; Britten’s “A Boy was Born”; David Willcocks’ arrangement of “Infant holy, infant lowly”; two Vaughan Williams works (“The blessed son of God” and “No sad thought his soul affright”); Whitacre’s “Alleluia” and the aforementioned Peter Conte arrangement of "Silent Night."

Highlights of the final works were Joshua Romatowski’s commanding and plaintive flute solo in the Rutter "Dei donum" (reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ "Lark Ascending"); chorus soprano Tonia D’Amelio's solos in the second Rutter work; and the often powerful group singing of the concluding Whitacre work. In the last the false cadences and precision part singing had a mesmerizing effect on the audience, eliciting a roaring standing ovation and a surprising choral encore, a reprise of "Silent Night."

As a Christmas gift to Marin, the ABS could not have done better in this impeccable silver anniversary concert.