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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
Chamber
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 “
Chamber
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
Chamber
ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING AT PIANOSONOMA CONCERT IN SCHROEDER HALL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
After a dark year bereft of live performance, pianoSonoma launched July 20 the first Vino & Vibrato concert of the 2021 season in Sonoma State's Schroeder Hall, albeit sadly senza vino due to Covid protocols. Three exceptional musicians showered the audience with an interesting variety of pia
Chamber
RARELY-PLAYED SCHUMANN HIGHLIGHTS HEALDSBURG RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 10, 2021
Brave New Music sporadically produces concerts in and around Healdsburg, and July 10’s violin recital in downtown St. Paul’s Church must have been one of the first post-lockdown, post-be-extra-careful classical music concerts in Sonoma County's summer season. New Music Founder Gary McLaughlin with
Chamber
ECHOS ON A WARM SUMMER NIGHT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, July 10, 2021
ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s first concert in a year and a half, “A Musical Promenade,” was a promenade indeed. When patrons arrived at San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for the 6:00 performance July 10, they were funneled through the garden to the Duncan Hall patio, where folding chairs were set
Chamber
LONG DISTANCE LOVE BEGINS VOM SUMMER FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Thursday, June 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival offered a 7th season preview June 24 with a stunning online concert, aptly named Long Distance Love, featuring inspired performances of Beethoven's short song cycle An die ferne Geliebte,, and selections from Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Wal
Recital
ROMERO'S ARTISTRY IN SLV RECITAL PROGRAMMING AND PERFORMANCE
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Gustavo Romero has been an admired visitor to North Bay stages, playing over a decade recitals at Dominican University, the Music at Oakmont concerts and at the Spring Lake Village Concert Series. He returned June 2 to SLV in a virtual recital, videoed from his home concert hall the University of N
RUBICON'S VIRTUAL CONCERT A MALANGE OF CONTRASTS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 16, 2021
The inaugural concert of a new Mendocino County chamber group is a reason for celebration, and the Rubicon Trio made the most of a mixed musical menu during a May16 virtual concert. Presented by the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra as the last in their “Salons with the Symphony” Series, the Rubicon began w
Recital
PIANO VIRTUOSITY IN YAKUSHEV'S REDWOOD ARTS RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev’s recital for the Redwood Arts Council was perhaps the local season’s virtual music at the greatest distance, as the filming May 16 came from a church in St. Petersburg. And good filming it was, with multiple camera viewpoints of the church, full and split screens and
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.