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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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.