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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
American Bach Soloists / Friday, January 22, 2016
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor. Tatiana Chulochnikova, violin; Mary Wilson, soprano; Derek Chester, tenor; Mischa Bouvier, baritone

Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova

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.

Soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor Jay Carter, tenor Derek Chester, and baritone Mischa Bouvier joined young virtuoso violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova in captivating solo work, supported flawlessly by the American Bach Choir and the ABS orchestra under the precise, expressive conducting of Jeffrey Thomas.

First on the program was the cantata “Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!” (“Watch! pray! pray! watch! be ready all the time...”). In the opening chorus, the choir and orchestra pulled out all stops, the full orchestra, with natural trumpet fanfares, leading, and the choir then entering with astonishing polyphonic runs on the word “Wachet!” John Thiessen was brilliant on his (valveless) natural trumpet, every note sure and compelling. The dramatic choral opening was heightened by Recitative No. 2, with Mr. Bouvier admonishing listeners to “Be afraid, obdurate sinners!” Yet he also reminded us that “True joy is ours, so do not despair!” On the word “Freude” (Joy), Mr. Bouvier’s voice soared effortlessly in beautifully turned melismatic phrases.

In this cantata (Wachet!), emotions move from “be ready,” evoking fear, to comfort, then to joy, ending in celebration. We were prepared for this sequence by harpsichordist Corey Jamason in his engaging pre-concert lecture. Mr. Carter held the audience rapt with his limpid voice, each word understood perfectly above the orchestra. All four soloists were a distinct pleasure to hear, balancing gracefully with the instruments.

In Chorale No. 7 (“Rejoice greatly”) the trumpet, oboes, and orchestra played in unison, as the choir enunciated every word. The oboes were superb throughout. Debra Nagy and Stephen Bard were required to play oboe, oboe d’amore, and oboe da caccia, each instrument with its own sound and technique. In general, the wind instruments, including trumpet, oboes, and bassoon, contributed a rich array of colors to the overall musical fabric.

The second piece was Bach’s renowned Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, usually heard on organ, but here Ms. Chulochnikova played her own violin transcription. The violinist was the 2016 winner of the Jeffrey Thomas Award, granted to exceptionally promising emerging professionals in the field of early music. Musicologists debate whether this classic was originally composed for the organ or rather for solo violin, some asserting that it lies better under a violinist's fingers. As if to illustrate this claim, transcribed into A Minor, it emerged in fine form; for Ms. Chulochnikova played it with impressive brilliance, articulating cleanly, with virtuosic double stops, carefully shaping the polyphonic lines, creating an ebb and flow that carried the listener along. In the opening of the Fugue section, she played pedal tones against the melody, making clear distinctions between the melody above and the underlying harmonies and the emphatic bass line.

Another well-known work is Bach’s arresting Concerto for Violin in E Major, presented after intermission, with Ms. Chulochnikova again soloist. It was so exquisitely played that I felt as if I were hearing it for the first time--clean and fresh as a spring day. Mr. Thomas’s fluent conducting reminds one of baroque gesture; watching his expressive hands, one feels the overarching “bigger” beat, the progress from tension toward resolution in each phrase. This gesture is extremely important in performance of early music.

The middle Adagio was especially moving, the bass instruments playing in unison in slow, pulsing low notes leading into the solo violin’s very long held note that bloomed into a soulful melody. The final movement is a jubilant celebration, the solo violin first playing in unison with the other violins, then breaking away into its own melody, yet always returning to the original. Ms. Chulochnikova’s added ornaments that only made the work more delicious.

The evening’s final cantata was “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”). Once again the wonderful trumpet and oboes brought their joyous sounds to the orchestra. After the turbulence of the opening chorus, Mr. Chester evoked calmness with the haunting recitative No. 2, “Blessed mouth!” referring to how one’s mouth suppresses goodness. The countertenor Aria No. 3, “Do not be ashamed, oh soul,” was especially moving, with Ms Nagy soloing on the oboe d’amore, with continuo. The oboe part wove in and out of the vocal line as Ms. Nagy concentrated her eloquence in the sumptuous notes issuing from her instrument.

In Recitative No. 4, “Astonishment might dazzle the mighty,” the audience was astonished to hear Mr. Bouvier accompanied by the great violone grosso (similar to a bass viol), played impeccably by Steven Lehning. In the Aria (No. 5), “Prepare, Jesus, even now the path for yourself,” violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock demonstrated her crisp, full sound in accompanying soprano Ms Wilson. The soprano,with sustained lyricism throughout her range, brought out the best in this da capo aria, her voice poignant and richly colored.

Chorale No.6 is Bach’s famous melody “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,” with the words “Happy I, who has Jesus.” Many in the audience felt--but controlled--a reflexive impulse to sing the oh-so-familiar 6/8 melody along with the choir and oboists Ms. Nagy and Mr. Bard.

Bassoonist Nate Helgeson, an ABS Academy alumnus, had the chance to shine in tenor Aria No. 6, “Help, Jesus, help that I may also acknowledge you.” Often this engagingly sonorous instrument is buried in the texture of the orchestra; but In this aria the bassoon and the violone grosso, supported by the continuo, played a detached “walking” bass, with Mr. Chester singing beautifully executed melismas above the instruments, to an appealing effect. The rarely heard and unusual-looking oboes da caccia (with their “C” configuration) created an interesting mellow tone color as countertenor Mr. Carter sang Recitative No. 8, “The wondrous hand of the exalted Almighty is active in the mysteries of the earth.”

In the next-to-last Aria (No. 9), Mr. Bouvier, with the jubilant words “I will sing of Jesus’ wonders” was joined by trumpet master John Thiessen, trumpet and orchestra echoing Bouvier’s words. The cantata ends with a repetition of the familiar “Jesu, joy” melody, this time carrying the words “Jesus shall remain my joy,”and the audience humming softly along. Upon the concluding choral words, “therefore I will not let Jesus go out of my heart and sight,” all in the Church stood to show the consummate musicians of ABS how much they are appreciated.

American Bach Soloists yet again had performed a memorable concert. The next ABS performance at St. Stephen’s will be February 26, with an all Handel program.