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GAULIST FLAVOR IN FINAL SF PIANO FESTIVAL CONCERT AT OLD FIRST
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Final summer music festival programs are often a mix of what has come before, with the theme and even a featured composer taking a last stage appearance, with a dramatic wrap up composition. San Francisco’s International Piano Festival defied the norm August 29 with an eclectic French-flavored prog
SPARE DUO PRECEDES MYSTEROUS DUO AT DEN BOER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, August 27, 2021
In a departure from usual summer festival fare Julia Den Boer played an August 27 virtual recital in the San Francisco Piano Festival’s 4.5 season with four works, all mostly quiet but all in separate ways insistently demanding of artist and listener. Throughout the 40 minutes there was nary a powe
HARMONIC COMPLEXITY IN PHILLIPS' ALL-GRIFFES RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, August 20, 2021
Charles Griffes’ piano music is similar to that of Busoni, Reger and even Poulenc, in that there is a sporadic flourish of interest with concerts and scholarly work, then a quick fade into another long period of obscurity. So, it was a delight to have an all-Griffes recital August 20 on the San F
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ONE PIANO, TWO PIANO, THREE PIANO, FORE
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Schroeder Hall was nearly full July 29 for the final pianoSonoma concert of their season, and presumably the draw and highlight for many of the 150 attending was Bach’s Concerto for Four Pianos. And that performance was probably going to be a North Bay premiere. However, it wasn’t the highl
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PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT FEATURES GORGEOUS VOCALISM
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Thursday, July 29, 2021
The 2021 Valley of the Moon Music Festival continued on July 29 with a sumptuous online offering of French songs, concluding with the second piano quartet by Fauré, Op. 45. Such a beautiful bouquet of video performances wonderfully filmed and recorded softened the disappointment of not being able to
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SIX GUITARISTS IN UNIQUE NAPA RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The first Napa Valley Guitar Festival was held at Napa’s First Presbyterian Church July 25, and featured performances from six classical guitarists. The Church is an iconic structure in downtown Napa, its huge white presence dominating the scene, and the white theme continues inside punctuated by be
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BOGAS' TENURE ENDS IN OUTDOOR GUALALA CHAMBER CONCERT
by Iris Lorenzfife
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The preconcert call that music lovers should gather at Gualala Arts July 25 to attend the final Roy Bogas and Friends Concert was not quite as dire as it sounded. It seems that a year of Covid 19 and an 88th birthday had combined to convince Mr. Bogas that he was working too hard. But with cellist P
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CLARA SCHUMANN TRIO COMMANDS VOM CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERT AT HANNA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Series has begun several virtual and a few live concerts in its new seventh season, some broadcast from Sonoma’s Hanna Center Hall and some in posh local venues. July 24’s video had a small live audience and a well-produced video program of three works. Titled “
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RARE LANG SONGS SPARKLE AT VOM FESTIVAL VIDEO RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Unexpected pleasures are often the best. Valley of the Moon Chamber Festival presented a such a pleasure last week-a July 21 recorded performance by tenor Kyle Stegall and pianist Eric Zivian in another mini-recital (very mini-just 15 minutes!) of six songs by the nineteenth century German composer
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EXEMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MENDO FESTIVAL FT. BRAGG CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Faced with the impossibility of presenting concerts in the iconic large white tent on the bluff, the Mendocino Music Festival opted to use Ft. Bragg’s Cotton Auditorium for ten events in the abbreviated 35th season. San Francisco’s Alexander String Quartet played July 21 to a fully masked audience
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