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Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
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...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Friday, July 19, 2013
Jeffrey Thomas, director. American Bach Soloists Academy singers and instrumentalists

Director Jeffrey Thomas

BRILLIANT HANDEL ORATORIO COMPLETES ABS FESTIVAL

by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, July 19, 2013

Nearing the close of its “Festival and Academy 2013” the American Bach Soloists outdid themselves once again July 19 in its presentation of Handel’s oratorio Esther, with full house at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During his early years in England, Handel turned to Racine’s masque Esther for the seeds of what in his hands grew into a new genre -- the English oratorio. Because the Bishop of London forbade dramatic performances, Handel presented Esther in concert, to the delight of English audiences; and it became one of his most popular works.

Jeffrey Thomas, the exacting conductor of ABS, pulled out all the stops to showcase a glorious recreation of this towering work, drawing forth both power and nuance from the ensemble of over 25 singers and orchestra. In the Jewish tradition the tale of Esther is the basis for the celebration of Purim, the leading characters being Esther, the young Jewish wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus; Haman, chief advisor to the king; Mordecai, Esther’s cousin; and King Ahasuerus; Persian officers and Israelites also appear. It is Esther who, in appealing to Ahasuerus, saves her people from the murderous plotting of the vengeful Haman.

Many Academy students filled major roles beside ABS regulars, fitting in seamlessly. Of the 12 soloists, 9 were students. One would scarcely have suspected this in observing the level at which they performed. The drama of the recitatives and arias was enhanced by the chorus-- so polished, so precise-- charged with commenting on the events and with giving voice to secondary characters. This reviewer was reminded of the ancient Greek chorus.

Following an overture, featuring strings and two oboes playing three richly colored movements, the dramatic business opened with the evil Haman, embodied by the excellent young bass Benjamin Kazez decreeing “Pluck root and branch from out the land: Shall I the God of Israel fear?” The double basses and cellos formed a solid ground for his deep, expressive voice. Acting as Persian soldiers, the chorus then repeated Haman’s command, revealing themselves as conspiring with him.

Nola Richardson, the soprano playing the Second Israelite, delivered a charming aria, “Tune your harps to songs of praise!,” and her coloratura part was echoed by flute and harp in an intricate obbligato melody. Although powerful, Ms. Richardson’s voice was also flexible enough to negotiate the fluid passages. Handel was able to imbue his works with great humanity, enabling audiences to empathize with his characters, regardless of how formal or abstract the text might be. His music resonates with heartfelt emotion, whether soulful or joyous. For instance, countertenor William Sauerland, portraying the Third Israelite, issued the wrenching alarm “Haman has sent forth his decree: The sons of Israel all shall in one ruin fall,” followed by the chorus’s moving lament “Ye sons of Israel mourn, Ye never to your country shall return!”

Soprano Megan Chartrand sang the part of Esther with great skill and warmth, her aria “Tears assist me, pity moving, Justice cruel, fraud reproving,” in 6/8 time, was accompanied by two oboes whose beseeching melody wove around her words. Her voice is clear, controlled, beautiful, and expressive. The duet between Esther and King Ahasuerus, “Who calls my parting soul to death?” is one of the most touching, lyrical offerings in the second half of the oratorio, the strings’ soft, pulsing bowings intensifying the emotion.

In the chorus “He comes, he comes to end our woes,” two natural horns accompanied, adding their pungent sonorities to the orchestra’s firm support. These valveless “hunting horns” negotiated their part skillfully, echoing the orchestra’s swirling melodies for the words “earth trembles!”-- the chorus ending in a great fugue, each part (orchestra and chorus) delivered with impressive clarity of line.

Haman’s pleading aria, “Turn not O thy face away,” was accompanied by lyrically moving, sighing violins; while Esther responded with the aria “Flatt’ring tongue, no more I hear thee . . . Bloody wretch, no more I fear thee,” Ms. Chartrand cutting loose with impassioned bursts on the words “tyrant” and “bloody wretch” spurred the audience to the edge of their seats.

Throughout the entire work one was aware of the reliability of the bass instruments, the great basses, violone, and cellos, faithfully tracking dynamic nuances while enjoying the flawless support of bassoon, harpsichord and organ. These mainstays thus offered a perfect balance between faint timidity and strong, reassuring presence. Handel’s bass lines (arguably rivaled only by Bach’s) were indeed the foundation upon which
Esther unfolded. Steven Lehning, with his handsome eight-foot violone, leads the section with the confidence and sensitivity to be expected of a longtime ABS regular.

In the closing great chorus, a trumpet was added to punctuate the jubilance of triumph over evil: “Lord our enemy has slain” and “Let Israel songs of joy repeat.” Two bass singers, Andrew Padgett and Brian Mummert, proclaimed “Mount Lebanon his firs resigns, descend ye cedars, haste ye pines to build the temples of the Lord,” accompanied by trumpet and oboes. And at last the chorus sang, with orchestra, “For ever blessed by thy holy name, Let heav’n and earth his praise proclaim.” Just before the final few words, conductor Jeffrey Thomas brought the entire orchestra and chorus to a heartstopping Grand Pause, several seconds long, holding the audience spellbound one last time, before the release of completion.

Another ABS artistic triumph, and a lengthy standing ovation followed by the awed, grateful house.