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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
American Bach Soloists / Saturday, December 12, 2015
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor. Héléne Brunet, soprano; Agnes Vojtko, also; Kyle Stegall, tenor; Jesse Blumberg, baritone

Soprano Héléne Brunet

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 standing with Handel’s Messiah as a crowning celebration of the Christmas season, Bach’s masterpiece is not heard often, especially given the required array of unusual instruments. Comprising six individual cantatas that Bach had largely composed for other purposes in earlier years, the “Christmas Oratorio” traces the Gospel story of the Nativity. It includes choral sections (offering melodies at times familiar), recitatives that advance the story, vocal arias, and instrumental interludes. The American Bach choir, made up of four sopranos, four altos, four tenors, and four basses, is renowned as one of the finest in the country. Each “Choral” in the “Oratorio” was sung with inspired and captivating beauty, always expressing the emotions of the text.

As a frequent attendee at ABS concerts at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere, I wasn’t immediately comfortable with the character of the sound in the immensity of St. Ignatius. It’s preferable to hear early music at an intimate level, in a setting where the most delicate nuances of each voice and instrument can be heard. In St. Ingatius some of the musical subtleties were lost in the cavernous space. Despite this, there was much to enjoy in the evening’s impressive performance. Director Jeffrey Thomas, a respected tenor, was always in command of the sixteen-member “Choral,” the four soloists, and the finely coordinated instrumental ensemble, made up of strings, small organ, bassoon, trumpets, timpani, oboes, flutes, and horns (“hunting horns”). Rarely does one hear a piece scored for three different kinds of oboe, natural trumpets, and valveless French horns. This unusual choice of instruments enriched the wide palette of colors in this wonderful piece. All of the instruments were either eighteenth-century originals or carefully crafted modern replicas.

In the first Cantata, “Triumph, rejoicing, rise,” the chorus, forming a great semi-circle behind the orchestra, sang the dancey 3/4 rhythms, accompanied by trumpets playing brilliant fanfares, timpani, and orchestra. Oboes and flutes commanded front and center in the orchestra, surrounded by strings, bassoon, and organ. The Evangelist, the superb tenor Kyle Stegall, narrated the story with great passion, his delivery heartfelt and nuanced. In the Aria 4 “Prepare thyself, Zion,” alto Agnes Vojtko, a tall, stately beauty, was accompanied by Debra Nagy on oboe d’amore. Ms. Vojtko’s full, sonorous voice was perfectly matched to the deep-throated oboe, the voice making a statement and the oboe answering. Both were supported by the ever-reliable basso continuo (organ and cello), which provided the very important bass harmony underlying the entire work.

In Choral 7, “He is to earth now come so poor,” baritone Jesse Blumberg was joined by the women’s chorus and the two oboes d’amore. First the choir would make a statement, then Mr. Blumberg and the oboes would answer, ending in the Aria 8, “Mighty Lord, O strongest sovereign.” He has a rich, luminous voice, always bringing forth the meaning of the words. The second Cantata opened with a lilting pastoral lullaby-like melody, an introduction with flutes, oboes da caccia, strings, and continuo. The “oboes of the hunt” are shaped like the letter “C,” the bell facing downward, so that players‘ hands can reach the holes (opposite their chest) of this rather long instrument. Their tone is sumptuous, low and earthy.

In Aria 15, “Joyful shepherds, haste,” Mr. Stegall sang with flutist Sandra Miller, known for her superb technique and expressive tone. This beautiful aria showcased both the singer and flutist’s ornamented phrases, glistening with brilliant idiomatic flourishes.

In Aria 19, “Sleep now, my dearest,” Ms. Vojtko’s voice soared in sustained long notes above the quickly moving melodies of the flutes, oboes, and strings. In Cantata 3, in Aria 29, soprano Hélène Brunet and Mr. Blumberg sang the duet “Lord, thy mercy, thy forgiveness.” Ms. Brunet’s lustrous upper register rose above the orchestra, but the lower notes were overpowered at times by Mr. Blumberg’s compelling sound. In Aria 31 Ms. Vojtko’s solo with consummate violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock was exceptional in its beauty. The alto’s poignant tone epitomized sadness in “Keep thou, my heart,” and the violin’s expressive melodies wove around those sung by Ms. Vojtko.

Ms.Brunet’s most charming aria was Aria 39, “Doth my Savior” -- the echo aria--where an offstage soprano and oboist “echo” the soloists on stage. Ms. Nagy played with flawless precision, always with a limpid, sonorous tone. Ms. Brunet could be easily heard in this aria, which had the audience captivated. In Aria 47, “Illumine, too, my gloomy spirit” Mr. Blumberg and oboe d’amore player John Abberger joined in a duet of exquisite beauty. The oboe soared above Mr. Blumberg’s clear, deep, warm voice, which filled the great space of the church.

Later Ms. Blumenstock accompanied a vocal trio (soprano, alto, tenor) on Aria 51, “Ah, when will that time appear then?” and the exuberant violin part was elaborate in its structure, reminding me of an unaccompanied Bach Cello Suite. In Aria 57, “But a wave of his hand,” Ms. Brunet was accompanied by oboes d’amore, with light articulation and intricate interwoven melodies, always with great clarity of line between singer and instruments.

The Oratorio ended as it began, with the joyous sounds of trumpets and timpani, full orchestra and chorus. Instruments punctuated each phrase as it was “spoken” by the chorus. Highly animated instrumental parts could be heard below the simple soaring phrases of the chorus. Christ is now in the world. “Christ hath fully broken all that you opposed. Death, devil, hell and error to nothing are reduced.” All is well with the world. The ABS received a standing ovation for yet another memorable concert.