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Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
Symphony
WHAT SOUND DO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS MAKE?
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the Santa Rosa Symphony feted the occasion by telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet, a tale ever the more poignant during our era of stark divisions. The first telling was from Berlioz; the second from Prokofiev. In between was Brahms’ monu...
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.