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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.