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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
Sonoma State University Department of Music / Sunday, March 13, 2016
Carol Menke, soprano; Marilyn Thompson, piano; Roy Zajac, clarinet

Soprano Carol Menke

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 pianist Marilyn Thompson and clarinetist Roy Zajac was faultless. All three movements contained call and response segments between the two instruments that were performed playfully and precisely. At all dynamic levels, Ms. Thompson was ever watchful to keep an excellent balance of sound in the piano versus clarinet dynamic. The warm timbre of Mr. Zajac’s clarinet tone traversed seamlessly between extreme lows and bright, clear highs.

In the next part of the program Ms. Menke spoke a warm and inviting welcome to the audience that put them at ease, and then a set of rarely performed Spanish songs of Turina was heard. The composer studied for a time in France, and was influenced by Debussy, and the impressionistic qualities as well the influence of as Turina’s regional Spanish folk songs were evident in all six songs.

Turina’a song cycle showed both pianist and soprano at their best, conveying their virtuosity and the emotion of each piece, from the sighing “Cuando tan Hermosa os miro” (When I gaze on you so lovely, I sigh with love) to the peppy and pastoral “Al val de Fuente Ovejuna” (The Valley of Fente Ovejuna), to the poignant finale “Los dos meidos” (The two fears).  This group displayed Ms. Menke’s impeccable dynamic control as she effortlessly floated her notes above the sea of piano.  Completely focused and in character throughout, she carried the audience along with her on the waves of emotion. Between movements not a sound could be heard in the hall. Upon hearing the last floating whisper of sound of the last phrase “I am afraid without you”, the audience praised her performance with thunderous applause.

Mr. Zajac then returned to the join Ms. Thompson and Ms. Menke for Schubert’s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock). A soprano friend of Schubert’s had asked him to write a showstopper for her to sing, and in the final months of his life he created this masterpiece.  The first section tells of a shepherd happily singing in the green hills. Schubert wrote marvelous call and response sections between the clarinet and soprano, and piano and soprano to musically paint the echo effect.  From this light lyrical section, the Shepherd falls into despair at being alone without love, and the music descends into a darker color for all three musicians. But spring comes again and the shepherd is hopeful. Schubert writes in echoes, trills and runs that imitate the sounds of the spring birds. Known for her coloratura Ms. Menke did not disappoint and handled the musical runs with ease and versatility, her high notes chirping quickly like bird song.  Ms. Thompson and Mr. Zajac matched her timing and timbre, creating a delightful spring effect. All three musicians made the perilous and energetic runs seem effortless.

After intermission the audience was treated to more Brahms: five songs from different cycles for soprano and piano.  In “Stanchen” (Serenade) Ms. Thompson kept the piano lively and precise, imitating the folk band sound of the “flute, fiddle, and zither” mentioned in the text. After this delightful and bubbly start, they moved on to “Lerchengsang” (The Lark’s Song), where once again the soprano demonstrated her ability to float quiet high notes over the tranquil accompaniment of the piano. Ms. Thompson was ever sensitive to balance during this light piece. “I close my eyes gently; There pass memories of soft twilights, pervaded with the breath of Spring.”

Each of these Brahms’ pieces was a performed elegantly.

The last part of the program was the song cycle Kherdian Songs for piano, soprano, and clarinet, composed by SSU Music Department Chair Brian Wilson.  Ms. Menke frequently debuts Mr. Wilson’s pieces, and originally this cycle was written for either chamber orchestra or piano accompaniment alone. One cannot imagine the cycle without the clarinet as it added atmospheric depth to every piece. The poetry was written by David Kherdian, a friend of the composer. The six poems are drawn from the poet’s childhood experiences that are easily accessible and universal to most people: demonstrating the wonder that children experience with new and simple things, humorous stories adults reflect on about mortality, coming to terms with death for the first time and the importance of mothers.

These compositions are influenced by jazz tonalities and rhythms and each piece was tonally linked to the others and had its own sense of identity. “O but our treacherous BB guns” had somewhat of a death tango undertone, and a poignantly comic ending that elicited a chuckle from the audience.  “The First Sea Shell” with it’s long unearthly tones for soprano and clarinet illustrated the childlike wonder at hearing the ocean in a conch shell for the first time. This cycle also contained frequent interplay and echoing between the two instruments and the voice which tied it in nicely to the Brahms and Schubert works heard earlier in the program.

There was no encore.