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Chamber
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 08, 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...
Choral and Vocal
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...
Chamber
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...
Chamber
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...
Chamber
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 09, 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...
FRENCH ORCHESTRAL MUSIC A FIRST FOR THE SO CO PHILHARMONIC
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 02, 2020
Over many years the Sonoma County Philharmonic has played little French music, but perhaps this oversight was corrected Feb. 2 in a splendid all-Gallic program Feb. 1 and 2 in the Jackson Theater. Classical Sonoma reviewed the Sunday afternoon concert. In his eighth conducting season with the So C...
Symphony
POLISH MUSICAL WORLDS GLOW BRIGHT IN NFM WROCLAW WEILL PERFORMANCE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, February 01, 2020
The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, gave a concert of enormous energy and emotional impact on Feb.1 to a small audience in Weill Hall. This orchestra has been a major cultural force in Poland since 1949, playing under many renowned conductors and has been committed to pr...
Opera
EXTRAVAGANT ARIAS IN NEXT GENERATION TENORS GALA VALLEJO CONCERT
by Mark Kratz
Saturday, February 01, 2020
“Beautiful, strange, and unnatural…” said orchestra conductor Thomas Conlin when speaking of the tenor voice. One of the coveted voice types of the opera world, the tenor voice is known for it’s piercing tones and soaring, unnatural high notes. The iconic image of the Pagliacci clown (in the famed...
RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, October 20, 2019
Christopher Houlihan, organ

Organist Christopher Houlihan

ELEGANT BACH AND BUXTEHUDE HIGHLIGHT HOULIHAN'S ORGAN RECITAL IN SCHROEDER

by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, October 20, 2019

Organist Christopher Houlihan presented an October 20 recital of mostly Bach and Buxtehude with a few detours into the Romantic Era, playing in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh instrument. He was enthusiastically received by the capacity audience.

The artist gave informative commentary during each half of the recital, and the Hall’s projection monitor showed his hands and feet playing at the console, located high above the stage. Most of the program was performed from memory. Mr. Houlihan is the John Rose College Organist-and-Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major (BWV 564) was a gripping way to begin, showing off all his technical prowess in the opening manual flourishes and the extended pedal solo. The mass of sound eventually gives way to a more restrained concerto texture with silvery flute sounds and echo passages. The adagio featured a lovely ornamented solo line with simple continuo accompaniment in the other hand and pedal. The fugue returned to the more robust sound of principals and mixtures typically associated with organ music and a nice buzzing reed in the pedal to highlight the peppy fugue subject.

Next was a Romantic palate cleanser of two miniatures written by Schumann for the Pedal Piano. Mr. Houlihan explained that the composer was studying the works of Bach to relearn the art of composition when he composed these pieces. They were well played and showed the versatility of both the instrument and the performer.

In the next commentary Mr. Houlihan recounted the famous story of Bach travelling to visit the virtuoso Buxtehude and staying three months longer than his church officials thought he would be gone! He also decided to change the order of the program to place Bach’s monumental Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542, closer to Buxtehude’s Praeludium in G Minor, BuxWV 149, to show how it was the logical outgrowth of the impact Buxtehude had on the young Bach. The Fantasia opened with massive, full organ sound and frenetic scalar passages from one end of the keyboard to the other that were both brilliant and jarring at the same time. Luckily Bach interrupts this chaos with quiet sections of repose that the artist executed nicely with both a soothing sound and a calming legato touch. Mr. Houlihan stated that he feels the fugue is “playful” and his thinner sound of 8’ & 2’ pitch definitely delivered his vision, but felt slightly “too” diminutive compared to the fantasia for this reviewer.

Next followed three short chorale preludes of Buxtehude that must not have been in the artist’s regular repertoire as he used music for these. They each showcased a different solo sound of the organ with the last one being my favorite, as it featured just the 8’ Principal, which is the most basic sound on any organ, but one of the most beautiful sounds on this organ. He used a slightly more baroque touch with less legato and main-note trills to give a solid reading of these little gems.

He ended the first half with Buxtehude’s G Minor Praeludium, BuxWV 149, which is a multi-sectioned piece alternating between fantastic displays of virtuosity and structured fugal sections handled with aplomb and appropriate contrasts by the artist.

Guilmant’s March on a theme by Handel (“Lift Up Your Heads”) opened the second half and was the next Romantic escape during the program. This is a very challenging piece to play on an organ like the Brombaugh, which is entirely mechanical with no buttons or pedals to help the organist create quick dynamic changes. Mr. Houlihan did an astounding job creating believable crescendos and decrescendos by frantically pulling on and pushing off stops often only a few beats apart while still keeping the music going with the other hand.

Often the simplest sounding things are the most difficult because of their transparency and nothing is more sublime and wickedly difficult than a Bach Trio Sonata. The artist did a great job keeping each voice independent while weaving them into a seamless whole in Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 5 in C Major, BWV 529. It features the typical structure of fast – slow – fast movements, and Mr. Houlihan differentiated each nicely and kept the listener’s attention with beautiful phrasing and interplay among the voices. I especially liked the serenity he created in the largo by using only 4’ flutes with the undulating vibrato caused by the tremolo stop.

Now came the most famous piece of the program, Bach’s monumental C Minor Passacaglia, BWV 582. In his commentary Mr. Houlihan said he has played the piece many times and that he continues to find it both intellectually fascinating and viscerally engaging. The piece started almost at a whisper with only the quietest stops on the organ. With each variation the sound became more intense until Bach thins out the texture calling for a pulling back which Mr. Houlihan handled nicely, but ultimately returning to full organ by the end of the fugue. The artist has clearly matured with this piece and did a great job of conveying all the grandeur and majesty of this masterpiece.

The audience responded with enthusiastic applause and some standing ovations, certainly deserved for a technically difficult program played on an unfamiliar organ.

There was no encore.