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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 / Friday, May 01, 2015
Jerffrey Thomas, conductor. Gretchen Classen, cello. Elizabeth Blumenstock and Cynthia Black, violin; Ian Howell, counter

Countertenor Ian Howell

ABS CLOSES 26TH SEASON WITH POTENT BACH AND VIVALDI WORKS

by Terry McNeill
Friday, May 01, 2015

In a May 1 program that balanced vocal and instrumental virtuosity the American Bach Soloists closed their 26th season in grand style in Belvedere’s austere St. Stephen’s Church.

Led by the indomitable conductor Jeffrey Thomas the first half of the program featured a rarely heard cello concerto, a sensuous psalm setting and music’s most famous concerto for two violins. ABS concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock was joined by Cynthia Black in Bach's D Minor Concerto, BWV 1043, and the three movements all were at brisk tempos. Though sight lines in the vaulted concrete church are poor, the sound is direct if a bit muted, as the soloists use gut stringing. So brilliance is slighted in favor of ensemble, maybe
as Bach intended.

The violin line congruence reached its height in the plaintive Largo that lacked string vibrato but even at a fleet pace was gorgeous. Ms. Blumenstock was especially expressive with a deft left hand and trills,
Throughout the work the conductor’s sure hand never let the music linger, and cutoffs were always quick. No long fermatas allowed.

Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus (RV 608) featured exceptionally lithe singing from countertenor Ian Howell, and there was perfect balance with the ensemble. In the second movementLargo Mr. Howell stretched the vowels to great effect, and subtly increased intensity in long upward passages that for me were mesmerizing. There is a lot of lament here, especially with the church acoustics favoring the continuo of cellist William Skeen and organist Corey Jamason, the latter playing the portable Brumbaugh organ and doubling all evening on an exquisite two-manual harpsichord. In this haunting work from the 1720s the upbeat Allegro sections were in sharp contrast with short recitatives from the violins and violas. Mr. Howell’s sweet voice didn’t need any more reverberation than the short one-half second of St. Stephens. It was a captivating performance that lent mystery to Psalm 127 of the text.

Completing the first half was a Cello Concerto in A Major by the unknown Neapolitan Leonardo Leo. The soloist, 2015 ABS award winner Gretchen Claassen, played the charming work with attention to detail and a quick and accurate left hand fingerboard technique. The music, passing by without much weight, seems to lead to the early Haydn C Major Concerto. It was lively and fluent.

Following the ABS’s usual gratis intermission gourmet finger food in the Parish Hall, two big Bach works completed the concert. The first, Cantata 169 (“Got soli allein mein Herze Haben”), was best. Here Mr. Jamason was the stellar player, and the conductor led the audience in singing the 16-bar Choral from the seventh movement. At times the organ scale passages and roulades were muddy but perhaps Mr. Jamison found it necessary to support the ensemble this way in short phrases. There were fetching duos with oboes, violins and organ.

With all the lovely vocal and instrumental playing it is easy to overlook the “glue” that makes ABS concerts so special, and that is Mr. Thomas’ conducting. Every time I have heard him he seems not so interested in vivid and loud contrasts, or unique inner lines, though his control of these factors in the Cantata and the D Major Orchestra Suite (No. 4) that closed the concert is sure and canny. What he is interested in is shaping the delicate rise and fall of phrases, never through histrionics trying to get more from the small ABS orchestra than the music dictates. His conducting shows a mastery of shading and noble proportion.

The last of the four Orchestra Suites is the least popular and in its five movements featured a plenitude of oboe parts, with performers Debra Nagy, Stephen Bard Brandon Labadie joining bassoonist Nate Helgeson in a feast for winds. The penultimate Minuet was especially bouncy but throughout I found the Suite an anti-climax to the glorious preceding music.

The audience in St. Stephens, though surprisingly for the ABS not a sell out, provided loud applause.