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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

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.