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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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.