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Chamber
BEETHOVEN FEATURED IN SF TRIO'S OCCIDENTAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Conventional repertoire in uncommonly good performances highlighted the San Francisco Piano Trio’s Jan. 19 concert in the Occidental Center for the Arts. Haydn’s No. 44 Trio (Hob. XV:28) came from late in his long career, when he was in and out of London, and received a sparkling reading that featu...
SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close bu...
Choral and Vocal
ORPHEUS OF AMSTERDAM'S MUSIC IN SCHROEDER ORGAN CHORAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, January 10, 2020
“All over the map.” Sonoma Bach, directed by Bob Worth, has taken its audiences this season on journeys through many centuries and many lands. The programming is fresh and intriguing and the performers varied and creators of beauty and interest. The January 10 program was centered on organ works by...
Choral and Vocal
OLD NORTH GERMAN CAROLS IN SONOMA BACH'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, December 15, 2019
“Cast off all sorrows…also dance in heavenly fashion.” A volume called Piae Cantiones was printed in 1582 in North Germany, lively songs going back to the 14th century, and this treasure trove provided material for numerous composers to arrange Christmas carols over following generations, from simp...
Symphony
EVERLASTING LIGHT AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 09, 2019
The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night. The soloists were good, but the choir was superb. Located wi...
Symphony
UNFINISHED AND FINNISH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 08, 2019
Having a new resident conductor on the podium for the Ukiah Symphony was an attractive invitation for a long-delayed visit to Mendocino College’s Center Theater Dec. 8. The insouciant Les Pfutzenreuter recently retired after decades of conducting the ensemble, replaced by Phillip Lenberg who also j...
Choral and Vocal
PRAERTORIUS IN RENAISSANCE GLORY FROM SONOMA BACH
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Sonoma Bach Choir, in collaboration with Barefoot All-Stars Viol Consort and The Whole Noyse Brass Ensemble, presented “Sing Glorious Praetorius!” November 16 to an almost full Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. The Soloists were soprano Dianna Morgan, Christopher Fritzsche, (countertenor), m...
Symphony
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL EXCITEMENT IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Beginning with a scintillating reading of Rossini’s Overture to the Opera “Semiramide,” the Sonoma County Philharmonic performed a splendid program Nov. 16 in the Jackson Theater, and featured two additional works, one showcasing the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Young Artist Award. It...
Chamber
SPIRITUAL LATE BEETHOVEN QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, called “unparalleled in its inexhaustibility” by critic Thomas May, is a daunting challenge. Orchestral in concept, filled with wit and charm, melancholy and fury, it almost overwhelms listeners. Playing the frenetic Scherzo, a viol...
Symphony
MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 04, 2019
It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here. The evening began with...
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.