American Bach Soloists

ABS performs St. John Passion

Abs-2018* Notes *
American Bach Soloists finished a run of St. John Passion (1725 version) concerts last weekend, ending with a matinée performance in San Francisco on Sunday. The singing was excellent.

Tenor Aaron Sheehan has a bright sound as the Evangelist. Though much of his part is obviously on the declamatory side, he has a lovely legato as demonstrated at the end of "Er leugnete aber." Baritone Jesse Blumberg has a particularly fine voice also, and his Christ is very dignified.

My favorite was certainly contralto Robin Bier and loved hearing her strong, tawny tones in "Von den Stricken meiner Sünden" in the first half and "Es ist vollbracht!" in the second. Soprano Hélène Brunet sounded as pure and lovely as ever in her arias.

This performance, conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, did seem to start off with less precision than usual. The woodwinds sounded unfocused, but the orchestra was much more together by the end of the first half.

* Tattling *
There was very little extraneous noise from the audience, at least around me in Row K Seat 116. It was rather crowded, both the people around me expressed concern for me, especially because the person in front of me was at least a foot taller than me. I did not mind not seeing that much, and was able to concentrate well on the music.

ABS Performs Alexander's Feast

Abs-alexanders-feast-2016* Notes *
American Bach Soloists gave a splendid performance of the fittingly titled Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Music yesterday afternoon in San Francisco. The oratorio by Händel is adapted from John Dryden's ode for Saint Cecilia's Day of the same name.

ABS was played with the composer's Concerto in B-Flat Major for Harp after the second recitative and Concerto Grosso in C Major before Part Two. The harp concerto was especially impressive. Maria Christina Cleary played the triple harp with a fearless and sparkling intensity.

Maestro Jeffrey Thomas kept the proceedings clean and neat. Only the horns had a brief misstep in the middle of the first half, but regained their footing as far as intonation is concerned. The chorus sounded robust and cohesive.

Tenor Aaron Sheehan sounded bright and had some incredible breath control as was evidenced by his first air, "Happy, Happy, happy Pair!" He was fittingly strident in "War, he sung, is Toil and trouble." I also liked soprano Anna Gorbachyova, who has an icy, resonant sound. Baritone William Sharp could be gravelly and thin in his lower register but was otherwise fine.

* Tattling *
The rows and seats in the balcony of St. Mark's were unmarked because of a problem with a printer, leading to a fair amount of confusion that was resolved by a helpful usher.

Beeps and rings were heard during both halves of the performance.

ABS Performs Sémélé

Rebecca-myers-hoke* Notes *
American Bach Soloists gave the North American premiere of Marais' Sémélé last night in San Francisco. The music is exquisite and Jeffrey Thomas conducted a precise performance. The chorus was strong and the soloists were evenly matched.

Ever consistent, Maestro Thomas led a clean sounding orchestra. Even the trumpet was more or less in tune, quite a feat given the lack of valves. The percussionists seemed like they were having fun playing much of the dance music.

It was remarkable that soprano Rebecca Myers Hoke (pictured above) was able to characterize Sémélé's disquieting dilemma with her voice alone in this concert version of the opera. Mezzo-soprano Sara LeMesh was also particularly vivid in her portrayal of Juno. One did not have to understand the exact words she was singing to know how she felt, the jealously and indignation was palpable.

The rest of the singing was all at a high level. Soprano Chelsea Morris (Dorine) has fine breath control and tenors Matthew Hill (Apollon) and Steven Brennfleck (Adraste) both were bright-toned.

* Tattling *
There were quite a few problems with the titles, which would disappear and show the desktop of the computer being used to project them. The applause at intermission was enthusiastic, but many people did not return for the second half.

The person behind me seemed concerned about leaving right when the music ended, and pulled at my seat during the last minute of the opera, moving my whole body back with him. I was much engaged with the piece, so it did not bother me, but did strike me as odd.

ABS Marais' Sémélé Q&A

Semele-jupiterMy Q&A preview with Maestro Jeffrey Thomas of American Bach Soloists about Marais' Sémélé is on KQED Arts.

Looking forward to the opening on Thursday, August 13 at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I am impressed that a second performance had to be added back in June because of the high demand for tickets, as this is a North American premiere.

Rebecca Myers Hoke is singing the title role.

ABS Performs Matthew Passion

440x440xBach-ChesterW-1024x1024.jpg.pagespeed.ic.AZdbkahVbB* Notes *
American Bach Soloists is currently performing sold-out St. Matthew Passion concerts around the Bay Area. Jeffrey Thomas conducted a fastidious performance in Berkeley last night. The orchestra played neatly. The soloists were not entirely even, and the choral singing often sounded most cohesive.

Tenor Derek Chester (pictured left) sounded lovely as the Evangelist. His voice carries well, and he though he did have a few squeaks here and there, he sang compellingly. William Sharp gave an elegant performance as Christ, and also sang "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein," the last baritone aria of the piece.

Hélène Brunet had an ABS debut as first soprano and sounded quite clear. Clara Rottsolk (Soprano II) has beautiful low notes. Agnes Vojtko (Alto I) also had a fine lucidity in her singing. As Alto II, countertenor Jay Carter was somewhat strained, but his "Können Tränen meiner Wangen" was effective.

Tenor Charles Blandy has a bright sound with some rough edges, and tenor Jon Lee Keenan a pretty, reed-like voice that is perhaps less resonant. Baritone Thomas Meglioranza (Basso I) was easier to hear than baritone Joshua Copeland (Basso II).

* Tattling *
The person in Row H Seat 114 during Part II had difficulty being quiet. Not only did she speak to the woman she came with but she hummed along with the American Bach Choir and was rather out of tune.

My puerile companion was amused that one of the witnesses was sung by the countertenor.

ABS Performs Acis and Galatea

Nola_Richardson_3813* Notes *
This weekend American Bach Soloists is performing Händel's Acis and Galatea with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. During last night's Berkeley concert Jeffrey Thomas conducted a crisp, vibrant Acis and Galatea. All of the soloists sang with a fine lucidity and the chorus sounded decisive.

Nola Richardson (pictured left) had a lovely debut with ABS. Her Galatea is clear voiced and exact. Her Acis, Kyle Stegall, sounded pretty and light. Stegall's tenor contrasted nicely with Zachary Wilder's. The latter's sound is bright and his coloratura in "Consider, fond shepherd" was good. Bass Mischa Bouvier is an imposing Polyphemus. His trio with Richardson and Stegall was great.

The evening started with Bach. The violin soloist, Elizabeth Blumenstock, was not particularly precise but always quite lively. The recorders, played by Judith Linsenberg and Debra Nagy, sounded elegant, especially in the middle movement Andante.

* Tattling *
Parking by First Congregational was exceedingly difficult as there was a basketball game at nearby UC Berkeley.

The concert ended with an encore by the chorus and orchestra of "Happy We."

ABS performs Magnificat

Bach-magnificat* Notes *
Last weekend American Bach Soloists performed a program consisting entirely of works by Johann Sebastian Bach. Last Sunday's San Francisco concert began with the very cheery and sycophantic "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!" The ensemble, conducted by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, played neatly. The tenor, Guy Cutting, was slightly blustery, while soprano Clara Rottsolk sounded quite clear. Countertenor Eric Jurenas has a somewhat manic edge to his voice, but was much easier to hear than baritone William Sharp, who would occasionally blend in with the orchestra. The chorus was lovely.

The Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor that followed featured flautist Sandra Miller, who played beautifully and was well-supported by the rest of the musicians. After intermission we heard the cantata "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir" and were invited to join in for the chorale. The evening ended with Magnificat. The playing was tidy. The soloists sounded wonderful together, the alto and tenor duet with Jurenas and Cutting was particularly nice, as was the trio with sopranos and alto.

* Tattling *
The audience was silent and attentive. I was impressed by how well the chorale went.

ABS performs Lotti and Bach

Antonio_Lotti * Notes *
The final concert series this season of American Bach Soloists included works by Antonio Lotti (pictured left) and Johann Sebastian Bach. Last Sunday's San Francisco performance began with Lotti's Mass for Three Choirs. The ensemble, conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, sounded characteristically clear and clean. Concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock was particularly splendid in her solo during "Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens." The singers were fine also though perhaps not very striking. The only real fault was that the alto blended a little too well with the violas during her aria, "Qui sedes ad dextram Patris, miserere nobis." The second half of the evening consisted of Bach's beautiful Magnificat. Again, this work was played and sung with an efficient dryness. It was all lovely and nearly impeccable.

* Tattling *
Herr Feldheim was kind enough to take me to this performance, and we were seated right next to Dr. Murray Forbes Somerville, who lead Harvard University Choir in the world premiere of the Lotti piece about 15 years ago. It was nice to run into SFMike and various others at the concert.

ABS performs Bach and Telemann

ABS2_W * Notes *
The American Bach Soloists performed secular works from Bach and Telemann last Saturday in San Francisco. The evening began with the "Wedding Cantata," with soprano Yulia Van Doren as the soloist. Her voice as a darkness to it, yet maintains a clarity of tone. She was pleasant to hear, though she did not always cut through the orchestration, and her German was not particularly comprehensible. The ensemble was clean, if not a bit dry, with Jeffrey Thomas at the helm as usual. The basso continuo (cello, harpsichord, and bass) was exceedingly together and pristine. The Telemann that followed, the Concerto in G Minor for Recorder, was fleetly lucid. Cantata oder Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Cararienvogels was sung with deadpan seriousness by baritone Joshua Copeland, whose diction was fine, and whose voice was robust and warm. The unison of the orchestra was especially pleasing during the fifth aria.

After the intermission we heard the fourth Brandenburg Concerto, a piece I must have played on the modern viola, for the tuning of this historically informed performance was unsettling to me. The final piece was the charming Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht ("Coffee Cantata"). Thomas did well with the tenor part of the Erzähler, though the musicians may have not been perfectly together in the last trio. Van Doren (Lieschen) had lovely phrasing, but her vowel quality was noticeable compared to both Thomas and Copeland (Schlendrian). That said, the three singers played well off each other, and the performance was even fun.

* Tattling *
The woman in Row P 201 of the balcony was one of the most disruptive audience members encountered in recent memory. Not only were we regaled with tales of her 1.5 month long summer romance with a 25-year-old named Brian (apparently too immature) and adventures in purchasing gas (apparently too expensive), we learned she applied to a position at ABS and was there as a guest.

Naturally, her mobile phone rang during "Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten." She also talked during most of the first piece, until a glare reduced this to whispering. At intermission she stepped over me twice, and she and her companion (a coworker) moved to the side balcony to be more comfortable. The woman used her phone during the music, though did not speak into it, at least. At one point she bounded up, and stamped out of the hall, and after a few minutes she returned to stamp back to her seat.

ABS performs Purcell and Händel

American_Bach_Soloist_1 * Notes *
The American Bach Soloists performed four odes for the "royal women of Britannia" yesterday evening in San Francisco. The first two works were from Purcell, and both for Queen Mary, namely Now Does the Glorious Day Appear and Come, ye Sons of Art. Both orchestra and chorus sounded neat and square under Jeffrey Thomas, and the only discernable error was a small squeak of the oboe during the soprano solo in the second piece. The soloists were all pleasant, Aaron Sheehan (tenor) and Clifton Massey (countertenor) were especially expansive and pleasing in sound. Countertenor Jay Carter did a fine job of stepping in at the last moment for an ailing Ian Howell.

The second half of the program consisted of two Händel pieces, the first a Te Deum for Queen Caroline, the second the birthday ode for Queen Anne, Eternal Source of Light Divine. The trumpet was impressively in tune for the Te Deum. The chorus and orchestra were very much together, and never overwhelmed the soloists.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet. In between the first two pieces the person behind us in Row D politely asked Axel Feldheim to move over one inch so that he could see.

Bach: Favorite Cantatas

* Notes *
The American Bach Soloists performed four Bach cantatas yesterday evening in San Francisco. The concert began with a bit of a rehearsal for the audience, as we were to sing the final chorales for Cantatas 140, 78, and 80.

When the actual soloists started singing Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, they were a bit difficult to hear over the instruments. The tenor, Jeffrey Thomas, who is also the Artistic and Music Director of the ensemble, seemed a bit frail. His recitative "Er kommt, er kommt" was not secure, and one was a bit afraid his voice would crack at any moment during "Zion hört die Wächter singen." On the other hand, soprano Yulia van Doren sounded bell-like and baritone William Sharp quite warm in their first duet, "Wann kömmst du, mein Heil." The violino piccolo was assertive here, but certainly played well.

The sole solo cantata was Ich habe genug, BWV 82, sung by William Sharp. The performance was less than scintillating, but was lovely in any case. John Abberger's oboe playing was fine and clean for the most part, only a few of the trills sounded somewhat smudged.

Jeffrey Thomas was in better voice for in Jesu, der du meine Seele, his aria was good. The duet, "Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten," between the soprano and alto was gorgeous. The alto, Jennifer Lane, has a pretty voice that is not perhaps not striking, but blends well. The low strings and basso continuo all played very beautifully as well here.

There were times during Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott in which the singers seemed almost incidental, because of the prominence of the high strings. However, van Doren had a creamy clarity, despite a few slight gasps.

* Tattling *
The audience sang better than one would expect, even the diction was fairly good. There was no speaking during the performance, nor much electronic noise except some high-pitched hearing aid sounds. There was a little rustling of programs and a few times objects were accidental dropped on the wooden floor.