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Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
Symphony
WHAT SOUND DO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS MAKE?
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the Santa Rosa Symphony feted the occasion by telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet, a tale ever the more poignant during our era of stark divisions. The first telling was from Berlioz; the second from Prokofiev. In between was Brahms’ monu...
Chamber
GOOD OLD WINE IN GOOD OLD BOTTLES AT VOM CONCERT
by Jeff Chan
Saturday, February 11, 2017
February 11 was the first day of sunshine in Sonoma County after nine days of rain, but a nearly full house of music lovers chose to spend their afternoon in Schroeder Hall instead of being outside, soaking up the warm sun. There were two equally compelling reasons to attend this concert, which fea...
Symphony
FUNG TRIUMPHS IN SHOSTAKOVICH CONCERTO WITH VSO
by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Vallejo Symphony Orchestra presented their season’s second concert Jan. 29 in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium, devoted to early Haydn, middle Shostakovich and Beethoven’s ground-breaking “Eroica” Symphony. In remarks to the audiences of nearly 400, Conductor Marc Taddei characterized Haydn’s Sympho...
Chamber
ENSEMBLE PERFECTION IN KLR TRIO'S 40TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Longevity has its place in classical music. Composers and especially conductors live a long time, and venerable piano trios can linger for years. One can recall the great Cortot-Thibaud-Casals staying on the international scene for decades, and more recently Stern-Istomin-Rose, Oistrakh-Oborin-Knu...
Symphony
SUBLIME MOZART CLARINET CONCERTO TOPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Sonoma County Philharmonic’s long history of featuring soloists from the neighborhood struck gold again Jan. 28 with a ravishing Mozart Clarinet Concerto performance with soloist Roy Zajac. Before an audience of 300 the Santa Rosa High School hall the A Major Concerto (K. 626) unfolded gracefully w...
Recital
RISKY SPEED IN POTENT LUO RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Each half of pianist Wei Luo’s Schroeder Hall recital Jan. 22 contained beguiling interpretations and consummate technical command of Shostakovich and Albeniz works, but each half finished with less than exalted playing. Two of Shostakovich’s Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues opened the recital, from the ...
Recital
COLORFUL SCHUBERT AND CHOPIN WARM WEILL HALL IN AX RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Friday, January 20, 2017
On a stormy winter evening Jan. 20 a rainbow of colorful Schubert and Chopin music came from the fingers, feet and heart of pianist Emanuel Ax.  Playing at the Weill Hall for the first time, this recital was a tribute to beauty in the arts. It conveyed the value and glory of balance, lyricism and el...
Chamber
A MUSICAL ODYSSEY IN RIVITING PRESTON HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 15, 2017
A standing room audience warmly greeted pianist Carolyn Steinbuck Jan. 15 in the season’s second Ft. Bragg Center For the Arts concert in Mendocino’s plebian Preston Hall. Ms. Steinbuck, to be joined in the program’s second half by clarinetist Eric Kritz and cellist Marcia Sloane, programmed Schube...
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.