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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...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW

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.