GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport.
Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater.
Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility.
Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall.
Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Soprano Anna Gorbachyova
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 supreme in the writing of Italian opera. After being wooed to England, however, he turned from opera to the more popular English tradition of the oratorio. Comfortably working in this genre, Handel was drawn to the dramatic possibilities of Dryden’s ode Alexander’s Feast; or, the Power of Music. Hosted by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, in the Persian capital, the feast as recounted by Dryden enabled Handel to musically highlight a sequence of emotional states as Alexander is unknowingly led through them by Timotheus, singing and playing the lyre. Collaborating with Thais, Alexander’s wife, Timotheus ultimately evokes Alexander’s burning desire to avenge the Greeks slain in earlier Persian wars, and Persepolis is torched.
Handel’s realization of the tale gave ABS the opportunity to demonstrate how complex the composer’s music can be, as through choruses, recitatives, and arias the listener accompanied Alexander from spiritual uplift to the bloody culmination.
A variety of instruments also added to the rich fare, the string orchestra being enhanced by oboes, trumpets, bassoons, horns, recorders, timpani, harpsichord, and Irish harp. The harp (a copy of a 17th century instrument) visually dominated the stage with its graceful wooden curves, rising above the musician’s heads. Besides being used for continuo in Alexander’s Feast and the Concerto Grosso in C Major, it was also the featured instrument in the intriguing Concerto for Harp in B-Flat Major, enabling Irish harpist Maria Christina Cleary to demonstrate her crisp elfin touch and mature musicality.
Following Handel’s original programming, the Harp Concerto and the Concerto Grosso were incorporated into the oratorio itself, the former near the beginning of Part One of Alexander’s Feast, and the latter right after the intermission, before Part Two.
Jamie Apgar, a countertenor singing alto in the superb chorus, delivered a pre-concert lecture concerning the importance once ascribed to music in moving the passions--in the case of Alexander’s Feast, toward fervor. In his program comments, Jeffrey Thomas notes that Dryden, the librettist, designed his work to show how the Christian St. Cecelia could inspire spiritual well-being and more noble deeds. Hence the last two choruses in the work invoke her name: “At last Divine Cecilia came, inventress of the Vocal Frame...”
The vocal soloists were soprano Anna Gorbachyova (in her ABS debut), tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone William Sharp, a masterful ABS regular. Ms. Gorbachyova’s voice was splendidly rich and powerful, and could be easily heard above the carefully modulated orchestra. Mr. Sheehan used his strong, eloquent tenor to further the story line in his recitatives, and the arias he sang were glorious. In the charming Air with Chorus he sang “Happy, Happy, Happy Pair!” the Chorus finishing with “None but the Brave deserves the Fair,” referring to the love between Alexander and Thais.
The immaculately honed Chorus served as the guests at the Banquet, or the “crowd.” In “The List’ning Crowd admire the lofty Sound...” the Chorus sang at full volume with the orchestra, shaking the church’s rafters. Throughout, the Chorus’s articulation and intonation were unequalled, even down to the triple pianissimo conclusion.
In the tenor Recitative “the praise of Bacchus, then, the sweet Musician sung,” two matched horns (valveless “hunting horns”) sounded jubilant fanfares on the words “Sound the trumpets, beat the drums.” And in the bass Aria “Bacchus, ever Fair” the two horns played an extended virtuosic duet. Bringing fresh, unique color to the scene with their earthy, evocative horns, Paul Avril and Loren Tayerle demonstrated highly skilled handling of these challenging, rarely heard instruments.
Throughout the performance conductor Jeffrey Thomas drew every ounce of expression from the ensemble. In the Air “He sung Darius Great and Good, by two severe a Fate,” Ms. Gorbachyova plumbed the depths of sadness, with the Chorus echoing her deeply moving words, ending with “On the bare Earth expos’d he lies, With not a Friend to close his Eyes.” In the Air “Softly sweet, in Lydian Measures,” the soprano and cellist William Skeen combined in a hauntingly beautiful duet. An essential part of the “backbone” of the continuo section, Mr. Skeen must have delighted in the opportunity to shine on his exuberant, brilliant solo.
After the tenor Air comparing war and love, the always supple chorus burst forth on the words “The Many rend the Skies, with loud Applause; So Love was crown’d, but Musick won the Cause.” Immediately following the great explosion of raw emotion, the soprano Gorbachyova sang one of the most poignant and moving airs of the evening: “The Prince, unable to conceal his Pain, Gaz’d on the Fair ...and sigh’d and look’d, sigh’d and look’d...” As if controlled by invisible strings, Jeffrey Thomas’s hands gently led the soprano and two solo violins through long, expressive pauses punctuating the repeated phrase “And sigh’d and look’d, sigh’d and sigh’d again....”
Part Two of Alexander’s Feast, following the delightful Concerto Grosso in C Major, opened with the resounding “...Break his Bands of sleep asunder,” which is intended to jolt the sleeping Alexander from his drunken slumber. Trumpets, fortissimo timpani, full Chorus, and orchestra combined to wake the dead in a surging wave of sound and pounding rhythm.
Mr. Sharp was called upon for only a few arias in Alexander’s Feast, but his Air “Revenge, Revenge, Timotheus cries, See the Furies arise...” was worth the price of admission. The powerful orchestral support (trumpets resounding) for “And the Sparkles that flash from their Eyes ...” fell away at “Behold a gastly Band,” the instrumentation changing completely, with only horns, bassoons, cellos, and continuo accompanying the words. Repeating the opening “Revenge,” the full trumpet-led orchestra entered to conclude the Air. Mr. Sharp’s arresting runs up and down the scale enlivened the dramatic text.
The Concerto in B-Flat for Harp was a delight, Ms. Cleary is indeed a master of her rare and instrument. This unusual work began with unaccompanied harp and paired recorders played lyrically by oboists Debra Nagy and Stephan Bard. The strings then entered, balancing beautifully with the harp. In the opening Allegro Ms. Cleary negotiated flowing sixteenth-note passages with sinuous fluency; and then In the Larghetto recorders and orchestra entered, followed by unaccompanied harp. Ms. Cleary’s cadenza, a tapestry of quick arpeggios, segued into a scintillating Allegro in quick triple time.
The four-movement Concerto Grosso in C Major, which opened the second half of the concert, featured two violins with cellist William Skeen. Consummate violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock led, and shared the spotlight with Jude Ziliak, an alumnus of the ABS Historical Performance Academy at the San Francisco Conservatory. The two violins and cello interacted with flawless nuanced balance and intonation, entrancing the audience.
The American Bach Soloists’ masterful performance of three contrasting Handel works, the composer born the same year as Bach, demonstrated the far-ranging prowess of one of the greatest composers of his age.
The next ABS concert will take place in April, with Easter and Ascension Oratorios by Bach, Buxtehude, and Kuhnau.