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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Friday, May 1, 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 1, 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.