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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Friday, January 24, 2014
Jeffrey Thomas, director. Amereican Bach Choir. Clara Rottsolk, soprano; Eric Jurenas, countertenor; Guy Cutting, tenor; William Sharp, baritone; Sandra Miller, flute

Flutist Sandra Miller

PERFECT BACH IN BELVEDERE

by Terry McNeill
Friday, January 24, 2014

Perfection in classical concert performance is a tough job, especially on a consistent basis. The redoubtable American Bach Soloists (ABS), however, manage to reach musical perfection often, and they did it again Jan. 24 in a sterling event in Belvedere's St. Stephen's Church.

Beginning their 25th season, and before a full house of 285, music director Jeffrey Thomas fashioned a long Bach program: two Cantatas, the B Minor Orchestral Suite and the wonderful Magnificat, BWV 1733. Before Cantata 214 Tönet. Ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! Mr. Thomas addressed the audience, praising their many decades of support and introducing four orchestra and three audience members who had been with the ABS since its 1989 inception in the same church. Five hundred musicians and singers had been ABS performers during the period.

The first cantata was joyous, the baroque trumpets (stationed stage left outside the violins) announcing the theme in the famously dry but mostly clear St. Stephen's acoustics. All through the Cantata the continuo line by harpsichordist Cory Jamason, cellist William Skeen and violone-grossist Steven Lehning were easily heard. In the lighter textured third section, soprano Clara Rottsolk sang a lovely florid line with flutist Sandra Miller.

Countertenor Eric Jurenas sang the difficult fifth section aria in a duet with oboist John Abberger, and later sections featured baritone William Sharp. Mr. Jurenas' flashy long runs with equally long breaths were exciting, and Mr. Sharp's voice often became an animated herald with bits of histrionics and then slow dignity.

The First Orchestral Suite (BWV 1067), which closed the first half, is not quite a concerto for flute, but after experiencing Sandra Miller's artistry, the term "virtuoso flute concerto" is apt. Baroque flutes are less shrill and loud than a transverse flute, and Ms. Miller played with a silken tone throughout the seven short movements. The violins, using minimal or zero vibrato, often take tones from slightly above pitch, adding to the pungent harmonic mix. In the stately Polonaise Lentement march movement, Ms. Miller's control of long lines, mordents and octave skips was masterful, especially so in duets with Mr. Skeen and Mr. Jamason. The finale found the flute mostly in the high register; the expressive music had quick down and up four-note phrases that could be likened to a horse trot. Mr. Thomas as usual had these forces in balance and under expert control.

Cantata No. 130, Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, began majestically with Mr. Thomas underscoring the off-beat accents and moving it at a fast clip. Excellent playing and singing continued into the third section (Mr. Sharp's snazzy long phrases but muddy trumpet playing in ascending scales), Mr. Cutting's suave singing and a lovely slow dance in the fifth part. Here the conductor held his arms at his side and presumably reveled in the quartet sound of flute, cello, organ and violone grosso pizzicato. It was captivating and a highlight of the evening. The penultimate chorus included an audience sing-along with the familiar "For this we give the willing praise" (Praise God for whom).

The 30-minute Magnificat closed the concert. Here the 22-voice chorus was superb, blending with the instruments and supplying a beautiful soprano-mezzo soprano duet lament with a mournful oboe solo in the third section. Mr. Thomas commanded many subtle crescendos. Of note throughout the work were Mr. Sharp's fioratura and perfect scales, an aching musical cry in a tenor and countertenor duet, and a surprising fugue for just the chorus and organ just before the finale.

This was musical perfection for Bach, augmented by the many small but important things the ABS does so well: personal names printed on tickets, a lavish printed program crammed with information and a refreshing lack of puffery, and the now legendary gratis intermission buffet in the architecturally stylish parish hall. It was a Bach concert that was in every way impeccable.

Early music performer and critic Joanna Bramel Young attended the ABS concert and her comments are posted in the Article section of Classical Sonoma