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Chamber
HEROIC TRUMPET AND ORGAN MUSIC AT INCARNATION
by Jerry Dibble
Friday, October 12, 2018
The strong connections between Santa Rosa’s musical community and California State University Chico were on display Oct. 12 as David Rothe, Professor Emeritus in the Chico Music Department, and Ayako Nakamura, trumpet with the North State Symphony, presented a concert titled “Heroic Music for Trumpe...
Symphony
LECCE-CHONG PROVES HIS METTLE WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 07, 2018
Francesco Lecce-Chong was handed two warhorses for his debut as conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony, and he rode them both to thrilling victory. For the first win, Brahms’ violin concerto, he owed much to soloist Arnaud Sussman, but for the other triumph, Beethoven’s fifth symphony, he and his musi...
Chamber
THORNY BARTOK AND ELEGANT MENDELSSOHN FOR THE BRENTANO
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, September 30, 2018
In a minor masterpiece of programming choices the Brentano String Quartet played a Sept. 30 Weill Hall program with an emphasis on refinement, even with a challenging Bartok work in the mix. Dvorák’s Miniatures for Two Violins and Viola (Op. 75a) opened the concert with charm and gentle loveliness,...
Chamber
ECHO'S RICH MUSICAL TAPESTRY IN MARIN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Marin’s Echo Chamber Orchestra unfurled a glorious tapestry of Mozart, Weber and Respighi music Sept. 30 in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church. The church, located on the grounds of San Francisco Theological Seminary, boasts a ceiling high enough for angels to fly, and its quiet setting and aco...
Recital
IDIOMATIC SCHUMANN AND BEETHOVEN HIGHTLIGHT WALKER'S CONCERTS GRAND RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 23, 2018
Mostly known as a concert producer and indefatigable promoter of Sonoma County music, pianist Judy Walker stepped into the soloist’s role Sept. 23 in a sold out recital for the Concerts Grand House recitals series. Two Scarlatti Sonatas, in D Minor (K. 213) and D Major (K. 29), began the hour-long ...
Symphony
SAKAKEENY'S LION AND ROSE HIGHLIGHTS SO CO PHIL'S 20TH SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Fresh from a triumphant tour in Latin America the Sonoma County Philharmonic opened its 20th season Sept. 22 in a celebratory concert in the Santa Rosa High School Auditorium. Keeping to the evening’s orchestra history and past performance, conductor emeritus Gabriel Sakakeeny, who led the So Co Ph...
Recital
DEDIK'S POTENT BEETHOVEN AND CHOPIN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, September 17, 2018
Anastasia Dedik returned Sept. 17 to the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series in a recital that featured three familiar virtuoso works in potent interpretations. Chopin’s G Minor Ballade hasn’t been heard in Sonoma County public concerts since a long-ago Earl Wild performance, and Beethoven’s...
Recital
DUO WEST OPENS OCCIDENTAL CONCERT SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 09, 2018
Before a full house at the Occidental Performing Arts Center Sept. 9 the cello-piano Duo West, playing from score throughout, presented a recital that on paper looked stimulating and thoughtful. Beginning with MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose (from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51), the transcription by an unan...
Chamber
CELLO-PIANO DUO IN HUSKY SPRING LAKE VILLAGE PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 05, 2018
Two thirds of the way through a stimulating 22-concert season the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series Sept. 5 presented two splendid cello sonatas before 110 people in the Village’s Montgomery auditorium. A duo for more than a decade, East Bay musicians cellist Monica Scott and pianist Hadle...
Chamber
EXTRAVAGANT FUSION OF STYLES AT CHRIS BOTTI BAND WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Jerry Dibble
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Trumpeter Chris Botti still performs in jazz venues including SF Jazz and The Blue Note, but now appears mostly in cavernous halls or on outdoor stages like the Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. He brought his unique road show to the packed Weill Hall August 12 in a concert of effusive e...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Sunday, December 21, 2014
American Bach Soloists. Jeffrey Thomas, director. Mary Wilson, soprano; Eric Jurenas, countertenor; Wesley Rogers, tenor; Jesse Blumberg, baritone

ABS Conductor Jeffrey Thomas

ABS PERFORMS HANDEL'S MESSIAH IN TRIUMPHAL WEILL HALL DEBUT

by Joanna Bramel Young
Sunday, December 21, 2014

The American Bach Soloists (ABS) made their Sonoma County debut at Weill Hall December 19, performing the three-hour-long oratorio “Messiah” to a full house. In the 25 years since its founding in Marin the ABS has achieved world renown, and has long performed regularly in Belvedere, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Davis. For Sonoma County devotees, it was especially exciting to hear them display their remarkable skills so close to home with Weill’s splendid acoustics.

The ABS orchestra performs on 17th and 18th-century instruments, some originals and some authentic replicas. For “Messiah” Handel employed strings, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, harpsichord, organ, and timpani, making balance adjustments until performances offered in 1753 (the version under review) while the actual libretto dates from 1743.

In the 1700’s burgeoning London was divided between the prosperous and the very poor, leading to the establishment of the city’s Foundling Hospital by wealthy donors for the many young children in dire need. According to conductor Jeffrey Thomas’s absorbing program notes, Handel took an interest in the Hospital and contributed to its support as he best knew how - as a composer able to stage fund-raising performances of his works. During the Hospital’s early years “Messiah” was a major source of cash for its expansion and operation. Even before Handel had perfected it, as the program notes report, “Messiah” was praised thus by a 1742 Dublin reviewer: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crowded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.” In fact, these words depict well this reviewer’s opinion of Sunday’s performance. “Messiah” revived Handel’s faltering reputation as a composer, and he reclaimed his name in London as “the great Mr. Handel.”

Everything about the ABS performance was superb: Mr. Thomas (himself a world-renowned tenor) and the vocal soloists (soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor/alto Eric Jurenas, tenor Kyle Stegall [substituting for Wesley Rogers], baritone Jesse Blumberg) consummately honed the 35-member American Bach Choir, and the splendid American Bach Soloists Orchestra. Mr. Thomas seated the orchestra at the front of the stage and created in effect two choirs, half the full choir behind to the right, and the other half behind to the left. Between the two choir sections, also behind the orchestra, Mr. Thomas placed the four vocal soloists on a platform so that they could look out over the orchestra. This arrangement made for a striking antiphonal effect.

The four soloists were all splendid. I found no grounds for the least quibble with respect to any of them. Their voices rang out above the orchestra, whose sound was carefully calibrated to maintain appropriate balance. Jeffrey Thomas has such a mastery of the score and knowledge of all the performers that he is able to call forth every possible nuance from the musicians. Watching him conduct, one can see how the most subtle gesture is obeyed by all.

In the orchestra principal string players were Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin; William Skeen, cello; and Steven Lehning, contra-bass, and they anchored the precise orchestral accompaniment. Harpsichordist Corey Jamason and organist Steven Bailey rounded out the basso continuo.

The first vocal solo was by Mr. Stegall singing “Comfort ye, my People,” leading into “Ev’ry Valley shall be exalted.” Mr. Stegall’s soaring melismas and ascending ornaments, accompanied by the orchestra, left no doubt that he was in full command of his instrument. Eric Jurenas sang “But who may abide ...For he is like a Refiner’s Fire.” Simulating flames with quick “shimmering” bowing, the strings brought to life the word “Fire.” Mr. Jurenas’s brilliant virtuoso singing rose crystal clear above the spirited orchestral accompaniment.

The choir, on the words “And he shall purify,” demonstrated its flexibility with glorious antiphonal runs on the word “purify.” This choir’s members sang with one unified sound and negotiated every brilliant allegro, and aligned seamlessly with the swiftly moving orchestral notes.

Mr. Blumberg’s powerful and expressive voice sang the affecting song “The People that walked in Darkness have seen a great Light,” supported by the orchestra playing an ominous melody that symbolized the fear that accompanied the words Darkness and Death. Hearing him sing in unison with the strings--also in unison--in the da capo aria was especially moving. Quickly following this dark aria, the chorus sang “Unto us a Child is born,” one of the most beloved and stirring arias in “Messiah.” Negotiating the elaborate ornaments, the antiphonal choir sang effortlessly, with lilting voices. The words “Wonderful!, Councellor!” rang out above the sparkling orchestra.

In the Chorus “Glory to God on the Highest” the trumpets were heard for the first time. When they sounded, I looked for them in the orchestra, and then realized the two of them were playing high in the rear second-floor corners of the audience section, behind the orchestra, one trumpet on the left and the other on the right. This height and separation gave them a clear, ethereal sound that rose above the entire ensemble. The trumpets of the eighteenth century have no valves, are about three feet long (curved over upon themselves) and have only a few tiny holes played by the right hand. Much of the technique depends on the lips. It is quite remarkable that they can be played by John Thiessen and William Harvey so perfectly in tune, and with such delicate expression.

Before Intermission another famous song was the alto and soprano “duet” “He shall feed his Flock.” The song is not technically a duet because the two singers never sing at the same time. The first alto Mr. Jurenas sang a verse, then soprano Ms. Wilson sang one. On the closing words “And ye shall find Rest,” her voice ascended effortlessly to a held high note on “Rest” that left the audience transported. In “Behold the Lamb of God” the chorus had a special purity of tone, singing very slowly and softly. The choir sang with an absolutely straight, even tone, with no vibrato, creating a clean, clear sound; every word could be understood.

In the alto solo “He was despised and rejected of Men,” Mr. Jurenas sang the words “despised” and “rejected,” and the orchestra punctuated each word. “Acquainted with Grief” was supported by an achingly beautiful instrumental melody. Mr. Blumberg’s coloratura singing in “Why do the nations so furiously rage” demonstrated his mastery.

Of course the “Hallelujah!” chorus brought the entire house to its feet, and the ABS didn’t disappoint. They gave it their sublime all, every member fully involved. The great fugue “And he shall reign forever” resounded throughout the hall.

In the last section of the oratorio Mary Wilson demonstrated her brilliance in “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Following a haunting, soulful instrumental introduction, Ms. Wilson entered, singing with arresting beauty and tenderness. The last time through, on “For now is Christ risen,” her voice rose higher and higher, then closing extremely softly, as the orchestra played the da capo.

A highlight of what was already a remarkable afternoon was Mr. Thiessen’s trumpet solo with Mr. Blumberg, in “The trumpet shall sound!,” supported by a simple basso continuo (cello, bass viol, and harpsichord). The bass cadenza at the end was flawlessly executed. On the da capo, the trumpet sounded its last great solo. The culminating Amen chorus is a grand fugue: the choirs began, stepping aside briefly for the orchestra, and then they united in a sumptuous compelling close.

This superb performance of Handel’s “Messiah” was a perfect opportunity for Sonoma County audiences to experience the all-around brilliance of the American Bach Soloists. It is to be hoped that this will be the beginning of a long collaboration between the Green Music Center and the extraordinary ABS.