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Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
Recital
AUTHORITATIVE BEETHOVEN SONATA IN KLEIN'S OCCIDENTAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, October 8, 2021
People attending the first Redwood Arts Council Occidental concert in 20 months found a surprise – a luxurious new lobby attached to the Performing Arts Center. It was a welcome bonus to a recital given by pianist Andreas Klein where the music seemed almost as familiar as was the long shuttered hal
Symphony
MOVIE MUSIC ON THE WINDSOR GREEN IN SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 3, 2021
People approaching the Windsor Green bandstand Oct. 3 for the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s season opening concert had some cause for concern. After 18 months of silence would the all-volunteer orchestra have enough musicians for a big movie music program? After all, performers can move, retire, or
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY RETURNS IN TRIUMPH
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 3, 2021
It is often the case that a single piece or performer steals the show at a symphony concert, but at the Oct. 3 performance of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the show itself stole the show. The concert opened with a serene 1982 tone poem by Libby Larsen, followed by a masterful performance by soloist Julia
Symphony
TWO WIND SOLOISTS CHARM AT SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 26, 2021
The house of music has many rooms. That dusty adage was never truer than when Weill Hall Sept. 25 hosted a roaring New Orleans-style musical party, and less than a day later a mostly sedate Sonoma State University student orchestra performance. Before a crowd of 200 conductor Alexander Kahn led a
Other
CLEARY'S NEW ORLEANS BAND IGNITES PARTY FOR THE GREEN AT SSU
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 25, 2021
A dramatic and unique start to the new Green Music’s Center’ 2021-2022 season exploded in a “Party for the Green” Sept. 25, a New Orleans (NO) style commotion featuring Jon Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen band, inside and outside of Weill Hall. Beginning with a private gourmet dinner in t
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
Chamber
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
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Friday, May 1, 2015
Jerffrey Thomas, conductor. Gretchen Classen, cello. Elizabeth Blumenstock and Cynthia Black, violin; Ian Howell, counter

Countertenor Ian Howell

ABS CLOSES 26TH SEASON WITH POTENT BACH AND VIVALDI WORKS

by Terry McNeill
Friday, May 1, 2015

In a May 1 program that balanced vocal and instrumental virtuosity the American Bach Soloists closed their 26th season in grand style in Belvedere’s austere St. Stephen’s Church.

Led by the indomitable conductor Jeffrey Thomas the first half of the program featured a rarely heard cello concerto, a sensuous psalm setting and music’s most famous concerto for two violins. ABS concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock was joined by Cynthia Black in Bach's D Minor Concerto, BWV 1043, and the three movements all were at brisk tempos. Though sight lines in the vaulted concrete church are poor, the sound is direct if a bit muted, as the soloists use gut stringing. So brilliance is slighted in favor of ensemble, maybe
as Bach intended.

The violin line congruence reached its height in the plaintive Largo that lacked string vibrato but even at a fleet pace was gorgeous. Ms. Blumenstock was especially expressive with a deft left hand and trills,
Throughout the work the conductor’s sure hand never let the music linger, and cutoffs were always quick. No long fermatas allowed.

Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus (RV 608) featured exceptionally lithe singing from countertenor Ian Howell, and there was perfect balance with the ensemble. In the second movementLargo Mr. Howell stretched the vowels to great effect, and subtly increased intensity in long upward passages that for me were mesmerizing. There is a lot of lament here, especially with the church acoustics favoring the continuo of cellist William Skeen and organist Corey Jamason, the latter playing the portable Brumbaugh organ and doubling all evening on an exquisite two-manual harpsichord. In this haunting work from the 1720s the upbeat Allegro sections were in sharp contrast with short recitatives from the violins and violas. Mr. Howell’s sweet voice didn’t need any more reverberation than the short one-half second of St. Stephens. It was a captivating performance that lent mystery to Psalm 127 of the text.

Completing the first half was a Cello Concerto in A Major by the unknown Neapolitan Leonardo Leo. The soloist, 2015 ABS award winner Gretchen Claassen, played the charming work with attention to detail and a quick and accurate left hand fingerboard technique. The music, passing by without much weight, seems to lead to the early Haydn C Major Concerto. It was lively and fluent.

Following the ABS’s usual gratis intermission gourmet finger food in the Parish Hall, two big Bach works completed the concert. The first, Cantata 169 (“Got soli allein mein Herze Haben”), was best. Here Mr. Jamason was the stellar player, and the conductor led the audience in singing the 16-bar Choral from the seventh movement. At times the organ scale passages and roulades were muddy but perhaps Mr. Jamison found it necessary to support the ensemble this way in short phrases. There were fetching duos with oboes, violins and organ.

With all the lovely vocal and instrumental playing it is easy to overlook the “glue” that makes ABS concerts so special, and that is Mr. Thomas’ conducting. Every time I have heard him he seems not so interested in vivid and loud contrasts, or unique inner lines, though his control of these factors in the Cantata and the D Major Orchestra Suite (No. 4) that closed the concert is sure and canny. What he is interested in is shaping the delicate rise and fall of phrases, never through histrionics trying to get more from the small ABS orchestra than the music dictates. His conducting shows a mastery of shading and noble proportion.

The last of the four Orchestra Suites is the least popular and in its five movements featured a plenitude of oboe parts, with performers Debra Nagy, Stephen Bard Brandon Labadie joining bassoonist Nate Helgeson in a feast for winds. The penultimate Minuet was especially bouncy but throughout I found the Suite an anti-climax to the glorious preceding music.

The audience in St. Stephens, though surprisingly for the ABS not a sell out, provided loud applause.