Monday, November 25, 2013

Christopher Houlihan performs Liszt, Bach, and Greene at third major concert for FBC Austin organ

The concert series of distinguished organists in celebration of the new Austin Organ at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC continued Sunday November 24, 2013 with Christopher Houlihan, graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut and then Julliard in New York. 

The program opened with the opening Allegro from the Organ Symphony #6 in G Minor by Charles-Marie Widor.  I like to hear complete works, but the movement is filled with melodramatic rhetoric.
He followed with one of the featured works of the concert, the “Steel Symphony” of Massachusetts composer Patrick Greene (b. 1985).  The three brief movements are titled “Putto 4 over 4”, “Lincoln”, and “Armour Boys”.  The movements are inspired by steel sculptures in the deCordova Sculpture Park and Garden in Lincoln, MA, by Michael Rees, Dewitt Godfrey, and Laura Ford, the last piece comprising men wearing masks who appear to have fallen in battle.  The work is dissonant and rather declamatory.

Houlihan then performed the early Bach work, the “Toccata, Adagio and Fugue” in C, BWV 564.  The first section has a famous passage for pedals; the Adagio has a famous A minor melody, and the Fugue is rather playful, as if to invite jokes.  I had an old Columbia recording of this with Biggs (with the Schubler Chorales on the back) given to me in 1961 by a friend from William and Mary after my “expulsion” in November 1961, which I have written about extensively elsewhere on these blogs.  So this work has been in my musical ear for years.
After the intermission, Houlihan played the “Carillon de Westminster” from the “24 Pieces de Fantasie” by Louis Vierne.  This piece is a fantasy on the “Big Ben” theme that Brahms also used in his “Academic Festival Overture”. 
The program concluded with the massive 30-minute “Fantasy and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam'”, S. 259 by Franz Liszt, based on an aria motive from Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophete”.  Wikipedia discusses the work here  It is quite a melodrama itself, with the fugue serving as a recapitulation of what is like a one-movement Sonata.  They key seems to be C Minor.  There are many quiet passages in the middle, which serves as a slow movement (somewhat in the suoer-legato style of the middle part of the Faust Symphony) but the conclusion, after the violent counterpoint of the fugue, is truly majestic. 
As an encore, Mr. Houlihan performed a scherzo from Vieren’s second organ symphony.
The organ console is rolled out into the chancel, and it is so large that it tends to make an organist of even moderate or average height look short and small by comparison.

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