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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.