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Choral and Vocal
A MAJESTIC ABS MESSIAH ORATORIO RESOUNDS IN WEILL DEC. 18
by Joanna Bramel Young
Sunday, December 18, 2016
San Francisco’s American Bach Soloists (ABS) presented Handel’s incomparable oratorio Messiah, HWV 56, to a sold out Weill Hall Dec. 18. It was a celebratory afternoon. In the fashion ABS audiences have learned to expect, conductor Jeffrey Thomas brought out the best of orchestra, chorus and solo...
Choral and Vocal
EARLY CHRISTMAS SEASON TRIUMPH FOR 24 ANGELS IN WEILL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Weill Hall Nov. 27 was packed with an audience of young and old excitedly waiting for an early holiday concert by the Vienna Boys Choir, and this esteemed Choir is a five-hundred year institution which is based in a school of 100 choristers. Four touring groups divide their time between studying and...
Choral and Vocal
EASTER AND ASCENSION ORATORIOS SOAR IN ABS MARIN CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, April 22, 2016
Three baroque composers were brought together April 22 at the American Bach Soloists‘ offering of oratorios: Buxtehude, Johann Kuhnau and Bach. In Belvedere’s St. Stephen’s Church the ABS highlighted the sequence of influence for these three masters, displaying stunning choral singing, virtuoso in...
Choral and Vocal
CHANTICLEER SINGS TO THE MOON IN WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, April 16, 2016
The renowned male a cappella  Chanticleer choir presented an "Over the Moon" program April 15 at the Green Music Centers Weill Hall.  The audience, including many choral music cognoscenti, was entranced by a varied and enriching program spanning centuries and continents. The theme of the evening was...
Choral and Vocal
RUTTER REQUIEM PERFORMANCE ENNOBLES GOOD FRIDAY CONCERT AT INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 25, 2016
There is a lot to like in John Rutter’s Requiem. Composed in 1985, it’s arguably the most performed large choral work of recent times, and it was a labor of love for choral director Carol Menke’s musicians in a memorable Good Friday concert in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation. Splendid Requi...
Choral and Vocal
SEAMLESS ENSEMBLE AT MENKE-THOMPSON-ZAJAC CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Christa Durand
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Those who braved the storm March 13 to attend diva Carol Menke’s recital in the intimate Schroeder Hall were rewarded with a warm program of chamber music for voice, clarinet and piano.  Brahms’ E-Flat Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120, No. 2, opened the concert.  The interplay and communication between pia...
Choral and Vocal
HANDEL A FEAST AT ABS BELVEDERE CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, February 26, 2016
American Bach Soloists (ABS) once again enchanted a full house in Belvedere’s St. Stephen’s Church February 26 with an exciting, varied, virtuosic performance, this concert offering works solely by Handel. Germany-born Handel made his way to England after an extended stay in Italy, where he was ...
Choral and Vocal
NEW ABS MARIN SEASON A BACH FEAST
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, January 22, 2016
Playing to a full house Jan. 22 at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere, the American Bach Soloists launched its twenty-seventh season with a program of four Bach Favorites - two delectable instrumental compositions sandwiched between a pair of cantatas that ABS had performed in its very first concert....
Choral and Vocal
MEDITATIONS ON THE ARTIST
by Mark Kratz
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Schroeder Hall's vocal recital Jan. 17 centered on the life of the artist, and tenor Nicholas Phan described the recital as “meditations on the artist” that highlighted the concepts of hypersensitivity and a sense of child-like wonder that many artists experience. The entire first half of the rec...
Choral and Vocal
MAGNIFICENT BACH CHRISTMAS ORATORIO IN ABS ST. IGNATIUS CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Saturday, December 12, 2015
The American Bach Soloists presented Dec. 12 a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in San Francisco’s magnificent St. Ignatius Church. The church, built in 1912 and one of San Francisco’s largest, was nearly filled with legions of appreciative Bach and ABS fans. First heard in 1734 and standi...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, January 17, 2016
Nicholas Phan, tenor; Myra Huang, piano

Tenor Nicholas Phan

MEDITATIONS ON THE ARTIST

by Mark Kratz
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Schroeder Hall's vocal recital Jan. 17 centered on the life of the artist, and tenor Nicholas Phan described the recital as “meditations on the artist” that highlighted the concepts of hypersensitivity and a sense of child-like wonder that many artists experience.

The entire first half of the recital was Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe, Op. 48. It is a work comprised of sixteen pieces set to the poems of romantic German poet Heinrich Heine with the overall storyline of a poet’s discovery and loss of love.

Mr. Phan and pianist Myra Huang both bring a large palette of different sound colors to this piece. In the fourth song of the cycle, “Wenn ich in deine Augen seh”, the final line translates to: “Yet when you say, ‘I love you!’ I must cry so bitterly.” Mr. Phan’s pure and focused sotto voce on the words, “I love you!” truly brought the house to an audible silence.

The seventh song of the cycle, “Ich grolle nicht,” stood out as a dramatic gem and one of the more difficult pieces in the cycle. In essence, this piece is about losing love and realizing the other person was not in fact who you believed them to be. “Ich grolle nicht” has a large range of almost two octaves and sits rather low in the voice until the ending, then soars to a high A. Mr. Phan’s tone was very dark and heavy for most of the piece and it was evident when he approached the higher range that the sound was forced and somewhat strained. This could be said of most of Mr. Phan’s higher range while singing full voice throughout the afternoon. Though sounding a bit strained, you could see the fire in the singer’s eyes and his intense connection to the text. His diction was so intense that you could see sprays of passionate saliva spewing into the front rows!

Ms. Huang was able to extract a myriad of colors and sound sizes from the piano. Throughout Dichterliebe she had the ability to accompany like a small exposed string quartet, as in the blocked chords of the thirteenth song, “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet.” She could also play like a full orchestra as in the ninth song “Das ist ein Flӧten und Geigen.” In this piece she used thick resonant left hand chords under a never ending right hand line that sounded like an entire first violin section. Ms. Huang ended Dichterliebe with a short piano section where she laid out a hauntingly expressive melody mixed with extreme sensitivity to the chromatic journey in the final measures of the work.

The all-English second half opened with Britten’s setting of Winter Words by 19th century poet Thomas Hardy. In Winter Words Hardy examines innocence and its frailty. Mr. Phan said, “Artists seem to always keep their child like wonder.” This piece examines why and how we lose that innocent wonderment of the world. Mr. Phan and Ms. Huang brought Britten’s use of polytonality and text painting to the spotlight light in this piece. In the second song “The Journeying Boy” we heard a train whistle in the piano that begins as a tight, dissonant chord that resolves to a very open and empty minor chord. This leaves the listener with a sense of foreboding about the boy’s journey. The fourth piece “The Little Old Table” employs a whimsical dialogue between the singer and the pianist. Both performers mimic a table by imitating the creaking of wood as a way of communicating its past.

The recital continued with four poems from the prolific American poet Walt Whitman set to music by Ned Rorem. Mr. Phan looked and sounded like he was very much at home with these pieces. His exceptional control of his sotto voce, when not pressed, has a lovely lyrical tenor sound. By far the most beautiful of the Rorem pieces was “That Shadow, my Likeness.” Here Mr. Phan use a brighter more Italianate sound and it was simply stunning in regard to both color and line.

The final set on the recital was Friendly Persuasions by American composer Jake Heggie (who composed the opera Dead Man Walking). In 2008, Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer were asked to compose a song cycle for a concert of music by French composer Francis Poulenc, and Scheer chose to base the texts of the pieces on significant friendships that steered Poulenc’s colorful career. Throughout the four pieces one can hear Heggie’s references to Poulenc’s harmonic language.

Mr. Phan seemed totally connected to this set both vocally and dramatically. The third song “Raymonde Linossier” was one of the most exquisite moments of the entire program. The piece begins with text painting from the piano. The accompaniment descends as the words “A green leaf falls to the ground, pulled from the branch too soon…” are sung. Although a homosexual, Poulenc had a deeply rooted long time Plutonic love for his friend Raymonde Linossier. When she declined his proposal for marriage, the two had a falling out, and they never mended ways and Linossier died an untimely and unexpected death. Mr. Phan channeled Poulenc’s heartbreak and despair with the words: “Part of my life will always belong to you.”

Mr. Phan and Ms. Huang presented a dynamic and polished recital focused on images of the artist. They both showed great detailing in their colors and their wide range of techniques. Though a bit heavy sometimes, Mr. Phan has a clean lyric tenor sound, and possesses amazing control of sotto voce and mixed voice. Ms. Huang is a skilled and sensitive artist.