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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Saturday, December 15, 2018
American Bach Soloists. Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas

COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018

Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work.

Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written in 1741 and the composer’s sixth in the genre, a lot can be said. In a Dec. 15 Weill Hall concert the sterling San Francisco-based ensemble, led elegantly by Jeffrey Thomas, produced a glorious interpretation that lasted two-hour and twenty-minutes and seemingly the interest from the audience of 750 never flagged.

Mr. Thomas arranges his orchestra with a harpsichord and small organ in the middle, with second violins stage left and his 32 singers in a choral circle. The four soloists (Soprano Mary Wilson; Eric Jurenas, countertenor; Aaron Sheehan, tenor; and baritone Jesse Blumberg) were seated in front of the chorus. Throughout the long concert, with a 27-minute intermission, Mr. Thomas drew a sprawling but also graceful interpretation from the ABS, and clearly he knows every note and nuance the score, and is able to generate steady tempos over long sections. The ABS performs this work in four Bay Area halls each holiday season.

Attacks and cutoffs were clean throughout, always with a masterful interweaving of soloists and orchestra sound. Interludes between the 55 short sections in 16 scenes were just a few seconds, and continuo playing by cellist William Keen and organist Steven Bailey kept the music grounded. Listeners expecting clear diction from the chorus and in some solo roles, perhaps from miked recordings, might have found the Weill acoustics sporadically blurring, but overall the conductor was able to artfully control section balances. Fugal parts were paced in exact proportions.

The ABS orchestra produced lovely string sound sans vibrato, and the upper strings’ short repeated notes, contrasting Mr. Juranas’ expressive singing in recitatives (“All They That See Him”, “ Thy Rebuke Hath Broken”, “Behold and See”) was a light and effective spiccato.

Highlights were many. Ms. Wilson’s fioritura in “Rejoice Greatly” was impressive, as was the sterling baroque trumpet playing of Kathryn James Adduci where she swelled powerfully on individual notes. Solo parts for leader Elizabeth Blumenstock, the pre-eminent baroque violinist in Northern California, were few but telling, and the violins executed the many unison short trills perfectly. The alto solo “He Was Despised” just after the break was resplendent. An alto-countertenor duet in “O Death, Where Is they Sting?” was captivating.

At the beginning of the famed Hallelujah Chorus nearly all of the audience stood, though recent research contends that King George II of England didn’t stand for this glorious music in the first London performance, and in fact was not present at all.

Leaving the hall I was reminded of long ago Messiah performances in the cavernous Pasadena Civic Auditorium, conducted by the legendary Richard Lert. The cheapest seats (and much ambient heat) were at the top of the balcony, and that’s where my mother and I listened, and frequently drowsiness was present. But not for this wonderful ABS performance, as the majesty of Handel’s music was constantly enthralling.