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Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 9, 2020
The Feb. 9 performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st century music firmly bound to the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire”—based on a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the 1820s—emp...
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.