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Choral and Vocal
EARLY CHRISTMAS SEASON TRIUMPH FOR 24 ANGELS IN WEILL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Weill Hall Nov. 27 was packed with an audience of young and old excitedly waiting for an early holiday concert by the Vienna Boys Choir, and this esteemed Choir is a five-hundred year institution which is based in a school of 100 choristers. Four touring groups divide their time between studying and...
Choral and Vocal
EASTER AND ASCENSION ORATORIOS SOAR IN ABS MARIN CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, April 22, 2016
Three baroque composers were brought together April 22 at the American Bach Soloists‘ offering of oratorios: Buxtehude, Johann Kuhnau and Bach. In Belvedere’s St. Stephen’s Church the ABS highlighted the sequence of influence for these three masters, displaying stunning choral singing, virtuoso in...
Choral and Vocal
CHANTICLEER SINGS TO THE MOON IN WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, April 16, 2016
The renowned male a cappella  Chanticleer choir presented an "Over the Moon" program April 15 at the Green Music Centers Weill Hall.  The audience, including many choral music cognoscenti, was entranced by a varied and enriching program spanning centuries and continents. The theme of the evening was...
Choral and Vocal
RUTTER REQUIEM PERFORMANCE ENNOBLES GOOD FRIDAY CONCERT AT INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 25, 2016
There is a lot to like in John Rutter’s Requiem. Composed in 1985, it’s arguably the most performed large choral work of recent times, and it was a labor of love for choral director Carol Menke’s musicians in a memorable Good Friday concert in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation. Splendid Requi...
Choral and Vocal
SEAMLESS ENSEMBLE AT MENKE-THOMPSON-ZAJAC CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Christa Durand
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Those who braved the storm March 13 to attend diva Carol Menke’s recital in the intimate Schroeder Hall were rewarded with a warm program of chamber music for voice, clarinet and piano.  Brahms’ E-Flat Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120, No. 2, opened the concert.  The interplay and communication between pia...
Choral and Vocal
HANDEL A FEAST AT ABS BELVEDERE CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, February 26, 2016
American Bach Soloists (ABS) once again enchanted a full house in Belvedere’s St. Stephen’s Church February 26 with an exciting, varied, virtuosic performance, this concert offering works solely by Handel. Germany-born Handel made his way to England after an extended stay in Italy, where he was ...
Choral and Vocal
NEW ABS MARIN SEASON A BACH FEAST
by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, January 22, 2016
Playing to a full house Jan. 22 at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere, the American Bach Soloists launched its twenty-seventh season with a program of four Bach Favorites - two delectable instrumental compositions sandwiched between a pair of cantatas that ABS had performed in its very first concert....
Choral and Vocal
MEDITATIONS ON THE ARTIST
by Mark Kratz
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Schroeder Hall's vocal recital Jan. 17 centered on the life of the artist, and tenor Nicholas Phan described the recital as “meditations on the artist” that highlighted the concepts of hypersensitivity and a sense of child-like wonder that many artists experience. The entire first half of the rec...
Choral and Vocal
MAGNIFICENT BACH CHRISTMAS ORATORIO IN ABS ST. IGNATIUS CONCERT
by Joanna Bramel Young
Saturday, December 12, 2015
The American Bach Soloists presented Dec. 12 a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in San Francisco’s magnificent St. Ignatius Church. The church, built in 1912 and one of San Francisco’s largest, was nearly filled with legions of appreciative Bach and ABS fans. First heard in 1734 and standi...
Choral and Vocal
A STERLING REQUIEM PERFORMANCE IN TRES
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 20, 2015
Mounting a production of the Mozart D Minor Requiem (K. 626) poses difficulties absent from the usual 50-plus minute performance time. Historical questions abound concerning authorship, placement of musical sections and even the murky commissioning process. Director Bob Worth moved to solve these ...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Friday, February 21, 2014
Jeffrey Thomas, director. American Bach Choir. Kathryn Mueller, soprano; Ian Howell, countertenor; Derek Chester, tenor; Jesse Blumberg, baritone

Soprano Kathryn Mueller

HERCULEAN BACH FROM THE ABS

by Joanna Bramel Young
Friday, February 21, 2014

One might wonder why the highly esteemed American Bach Soloists perform at a rather out-of-the-way venue at St. Stephen's Church in Belvedere; but that is where it all began 25 years ago, when conductor Jeffrey Thomas and former St. Stephen's organist Jonathan Dimmock fulfilled their dream of founding a world-class Baroque orchestra and chorus. This reviewer has had the pleasure of watching a finely tuned organization develop into what it is today--one of the most accomplished exponents of historically informed music in the world. It is well worth the drive to Belvedere from the North Bay to hear ABS; and fortunately nowadays it also offers each Marin program in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis.

Bach's familiar Orchestral Suite (Overture) in C major opened the all-Bach program on Feb. 21. On stage was a small orchestra--10 strings, two oboes, a bassoon and a harpsichord. Violins were on the left, woodwinds facing them on the right. This arrangement fostered pleasing contrasts between the two sections, which alternately shared the spotlight from one passage to another. The opening movement, or Overture, delighted with its seamless transition from the stately, majestic theme to the contrasting lively allegro section. Bach adds variety to this movement by having the woodwind trio play unaccompanied at times. In this performance, Debra Nagy and Stephen Bard on Baroque oboes and Dominic Teresi on Baroque bassoon played flawlessly throughout the evening.

Although a suite was originally a set of instrumental accompaniments for dancing by the nobility in Louis XIV's court entertainments, Bach composed such pieces for listening. The rhythms, tempos and nuances of the dances were not forgotten, however, and conductor Jeffrey Thomas masterfully brought the intricate steps to life. In the Courante (a "running" dance) charming syncopations caught our attention, and a "trumpet fanfare" was subtly played, not by trumpets, but by the violins. At one point, the very quick Bourrée switched into a minor key, with the woodwind trio once more playing unaccompanied. In the Passepied, which is a quick Minuet, the oboes played a 16th-note ornamentation over a simpler melody in the violins.

The Missa (Lutheran Mass) in G Major rounded out the first half of the program. For this, the four vocal soloists were Kathryn Mueller, soprano, Ian Howell, countertenor, Derek Chester, tenor, and Jesse Blumberg, bass/baritone, supported by the ever-reliable 20-member American Bach Choir. Singing with impressive precision and clarity, the choir revealed all the contrapuntal intricacies of Bach's melodic lines. Virtuosic singing was required in the opening Gloria--the choir supported by strings and oboes. On the words "Laudamus te; benedicamus te; adoramus te; glorificamus te" the choir's and the instruments' gentle lines wove expressively around each other. Jesse Blumberg's rich bass voice in the aria "Gratias agimus" (We give thanks) was supported by lilting strings, the aria ending with a brilliant long melisma, sung with heartfelt emotion.

Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock accompanied soprano Kathryn Mueller and countertenor Ian Howell on the duet "Domine Deus." The two voices blended beautifully, the high countertenor adding a unique quality to the aria. Tenor Derek Chester's aria "Quoniam tu solus" (For thou only art holy), with oboe and continuo, was especially moving. Particular praise is due to keyboardist Corey Jamason, cellist William Skeen, and Steven Lehning on the great violone grosso for the solid ground they created, above which the higher voices floated, securely supported. The oboes, too, deserve special mention for their contribution to this aria. The choral section "Cum Sanctu Spiritu" (With the Holy Ghost) concluded the first half in a rousing Allegro, beginning slowly, then continuing to build, the powerful, steady continuo the engine driving the work.

The program's final offering was Bach's cantata "Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen" (Let us take care, let us watch over our own son of the gods), a dramatization of Hercules having to choose between Vice and Virtue. Bach composed this allegorical piece in honor of the 11th birthday of Friedrich Christian, Prince Elector of Saxony, possibly hoping to win his patronage. In the aria "Schlafe, mein Liebster" (Sleep, my beloved), Vice (Kathryn Mueller) urges Hercules to "taste the delight of a sensual nature and own no bounds." Her long held notes over the active string parts were especially beautiful.

Hercules (Ian Howell) sang the charming aria "Treues Echo" (Faithful echo), with Debra Nagy accompanying on oboe d'amore. Off stage Howell's voice was faithfully echoed, then an echo oboe d'amore would follow. Howell's voice is beautiful throughout its entire range and thus easy to savor. The repeated words "nein" and finally "ja" were tossed about among the singers and instruments on and off stage--a charming effect. A fulfilling low note from the oboe d'amore brought the aria to an eminently satisfying conclusion.

Another lyrical and joyous aria was beautifully sung by tenor Derek Chester: "Auf meinen Flügeln sollst du schweben" (On my wings you shall soar). Oboe, violin, and continuo joined in to create an intricate fugue among all the parts. Hercules' aria "Ich will dich nicht hören" (I will not listen to you)--directed at Vice--surged up from the heart.

I was looking forward to the alto-tenor duet "Ich bin deine" (I am yours), a love song between Hercules and Virtue, because of the rare use of two solo violas. Possibly because of the very complex counting required, with difficult entrances, one of the violas appeared to become lost in the work's contrapuntal maze.

Jesse Blumberg, bass, finally was heard for the first time in this cantata as Mercury, in the recitative "Behold, O gods, this is a perfect image of the youth of Prince Friedrich of Saxony!" Bass and choir concluded in a powerful ensemble with horns, oboes, strings, and basso continuo: "Hurry, my Friedrich, [glory] awaits you!"

So ended another evening made up of three very different works by one great composer. From a stately orchestral dance suite to a secular cantata honoring an 11-year-old Prince, we tasted--and enjoyed--the variety of Bach's timeless masterpieces.