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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
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.