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Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Sunday, December 18, 2016
American Bach Soloists and the American Bach Choir, Jeffrey Thomas, conductor. Helene Brunet, soprano; Emily Marsh, contralto; Derek Chester, tenor; Mischa Bouvier, baritone

The Messiah's "Amen" Chorus Dec. 18 in Weill (C. Greene Photo)

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 soloists with his eminently tasteful and impeccably nuanced direction.

Prior to the opening measures early arrivals were reading Mr. Thomas’ informative program notes, which stated that Handel was involved with London’s Foundling Hospital (which cared for and educated poor and abandoned children), and for which the English-language Oratorio was created in 1741 to raise money for the Hospital. The first London performance in 1743 was received with great acclaim and critical success.

From the opening Sinfony to the final Amen Chorus, the music unfolded with majesty. In the initial recitative, “Comfort Ye My People,” tenor Derek Chester sang with compelling intensity, with a powerful crescendo at ‘The Voice of Him that Crieth in the Wilderness.” In the following aria, “Ev’ry Valley,” the coloratura ornaments were eloquently negotiated by Mr. Chester.

Unlike past performances attended by this reviewer, the four soloists were not placed in front of the orchestra, and were placed at the center of the stage, behind the instrumentalists.
With the placement their voices blended well with the orchestra, and everything (chorus, orchestra, soloists) could be heard with great clarity.

The early mood was altered when the Chorus sang “And the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed” with a lilting and dancing 6/8 rhythm. The concluding note was beautifully full and precisely in tune and a few “sighs” were heard in the Hall. The 33-voice Choir was supple and balanced throughout the concert and created with breathtaking artistry a clear rendering of Handel’s text.

In another recitative baritone Mischa Bouvier’s sonorous deep voice resonated in “…and I will Shake the Heav’ns and the Earth.” The word “shake” was dramatized by ornamented passages up and down the scale, with the orchestra punctuating the words with an emphatic dotted rhythm. Mr. Bouvier’s virtuosity made the recitative sound effortless.

In the next alto aria “But Who May Abide The Day of his Coming” the ABS sometimes has a countertenor sing the role, but here contralto Emily Marvosh sang it, and the strings added drama to the words “He is like a Refiner’s Fire” with shimmering bows playing quick, strong rhythms below the voice line.

The Chorus’ performance of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” displayed awe-inspiring vocal dexterity in long coloratura passages: first the sopranos entered, then the lower voices swelling to “Wonderful, Councellor” with the orchestra at full volume. Always in discreet yet firm control, Mr. Thomas brought forth a thrilling dramatic effect in the Chorus’ “Glory to God in the Highest,” which grew into a great fortissimo fugue and finally ended pianissimo with a transfixing and luminous tone color.

One of the most brilliant arias in the work, “Rejoice Greatly,” was radiantly sung by soprano Hélène Brunet, where the jubilant orchestra played in a lilting 6/8 tempo and provided rich support for her soaring ornaments.

More of Handel’s surprises emerged during the concert’s second half, especially when Ms. Marvosh sang “He was Despised and Rejected of Men.” Here the conductor made the most of contrasts, making familiar music always sound fresh. In the words “He Gave His Back to the Smiters” the violins played strong dotted notes and Mr. Thomas chose a slow tempo for the aria, dramatizing the pain of the words. The Chorus movement “He Trusted in God” was a great fugue and the voices intertwined in intricate counterpoint. Every word could be heard in spite of the now quick tempo.

Enhancing the conclusion of the Oratorio timpani and natural trumpets were added, and trumpeter Timothy Will joined Mr. Bouvier in “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” playing flawlessly with his difficult-to-control Baroque horn. The “Amen” chorus consisted of a majestic fugue beginning with bass singers, and then adding higher voices. The united forces built to a triumphant climax, bringing the audience to their feet in a long and spirited ovation.

This performance came shortly after a Friday night ABS Messiah concert in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, and also followed the group’s 2014 Weill Hall debut with yet another glorious Messiah. The ABS and this noble music rarely fail to elevate the spirit.