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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
Recital
ECLECTIC PIANISM IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE VIRTUAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
During the pandemic The Santa Rosa Symphony’s virtual concerts received their due in performance praise, but another series, Spring Lake Village, more quietly presented monthly virtual concerts to a select local audience. May 5 saw the latest event, produced by impresario Robert Hayden, and feature...
Symphony
SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor...
Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW

Flutist Sandra Miller

PERFECT BACH IN BELVEDERE

by Terry McNeill
Friday, January 24, 2014

Perfection in classical concert performance is a tough job, especially on a consistent basis. The redoubtable American Bach Soloists (ABS), however, manage to reach musical perfection often, and they did it again Jan. 24 in a sterling event in Belvedere's St. Stephen's Church.

Beginning their 25th season, and before a full house of 285, music director Jeffrey Thomas fashioned a long Bach program: two Cantatas, the B Minor Orchestral Suite and the wonderful Magnificat, BWV 1733. Before Cantata 214 Tönet. Ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! Mr. Thomas addressed the audience, praising their many decades of support and introducing four orchestra and three audience members who had been with the ABS since its 1989 inception in the same church. Five hundred musicians and singers had been ABS performers during the period.

The first cantata was joyous, the baroque trumpets (stationed stage left outside the violins) announcing the theme in the famously dry but mostly clear St. Stephen's acoustics. All through the Cantata the continuo line by harpsichordist Cory Jamason, cellist William Skeen and violone-grossist Steven Lehning were easily heard. In the lighter textured third section, soprano Clara Rottsolk sang a lovely florid line with flutist Sandra Miller.

Countertenor Eric Jurenas sang the difficult fifth section aria in a duet with oboist John Abberger, and later sections featured baritone William Sharp. Mr. Jurenas' flashy long runs with equally long breaths were exciting, and Mr. Sharp's voice often became an animated herald with bits of histrionics and then slow dignity.

The First Orchestral Suite (BWV 1067), which closed the first half, is not quite a concerto for flute, but after experiencing Sandra Miller's artistry, the term "virtuoso flute concerto" is apt. Baroque flutes are less shrill and loud than a transverse flute, and Ms. Miller played with a silken tone throughout the seven short movements. The violins, using minimal or zero vibrato, often take tones from slightly above pitch, adding to the pungent harmonic mix. In the stately Polonaise Lentement march movement, Ms. Miller's control of long lines, mordents and octave skips was masterful, especially so in duets with Mr. Skeen and Mr. Jamason. The finale found the flute mostly in the high register; the expressive music had quick down and up four-note phrases that could be likened to a horse trot. Mr. Thomas as usual had these forces in balance and under expert control.

Cantata No. 130, Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, began majestically with Mr. Thomas underscoring the off-beat accents and moving it at a fast clip. Excellent playing and singing continued into the third section (Mr. Sharp's snazzy long phrases but muddy trumpet playing in ascending scales), Mr. Cutting's suave singing and a lovely slow dance in the fifth part. Here the conductor held his arms at his side and presumably reveled in the quartet sound of flute, cello, organ and violone grosso pizzicato. It was captivating and a highlight of the evening. The penultimate chorus included an audience sing-along with the familiar "For this we give the willing praise" (Praise God for whom).

The 30-minute Magnificat closed the concert. Here the 22-voice chorus was superb, blending with the instruments and supplying a beautiful soprano-mezzo soprano duet lament with a mournful oboe solo in the third section. Mr. Thomas commanded many subtle crescendos. Of note throughout the work were Mr. Sharp's fioratura and perfect scales, an aching musical cry in a tenor and countertenor duet, and a surprising fugue for just the chorus and organ just before the finale.

This was musical perfection for Bach, augmented by the many small but important things the ABS does so well: personal names printed on tickets, a lavish printed program crammed with information and a refreshing lack of puffery, and the now legendary gratis intermission buffet in the architecturally stylish parish hall. It was a Bach concert that was in every way impeccable.

Early music performer and critic Joanna Bramel Young attended the ABS concert and her comments are posted in the Article section of Classical Sonoma