Above : This second Sydney concert was part of Garrick Ohlsson’s first national tour for Musica Viva.
Garrick Ohlsson’s final concert in the busy Musica Viva International Concert Season national tour showed absolutely no hint of strain or fatigue. Judging by the level of wild enthusiasm
following his performance, it is obvious that audiences hope this first tour in the excellent Musica Viva format will not be his last.
Freshness, vitality, flexibilty, clarity, control and personal inflection are some of the many buzzwords which sprang gently to mind as I sat absorbing the vivid colours created in the substantial landscapes
of this programme.
Ohlsson’s musical bloodline includes the Juilliard School of Music, Claudio Arrau, and success in the Busoni, Montreal and International Chopin Competitions. The concert of popular works from early and late Brahms and Chopin used the resources of his accomplished pianism to present this music with edge-of-the-seat freshness.
Standout moments of superbly controlled texture amidst bravura came during Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini Op 35 Bk 2 and also the opening Two Rhapsodies Op 79 by Brahms. Dramatic statement here was always presented hand in hand with calm, seemingly unhurried control.
The clarity of line and shifting focus of balance through the texture was the well-placed work of an intelligent musical craftsman.
The Romanticism of Brahms, with architecture rooted in forms of the past was never in danger of rash overplaying here.
Likewise the eloquence and genius deceptive brevity of motif from this composer in the Seven Fantasias Op 116 was offered to us with humble virtuosity as shifting keyboard colours and shapes exited the City Recital Hall Steinway with genuine energy and intimacy.
Garrick Ohlsson won the Gold Medal at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw 50 years ago. His second-half Chopin bracket showed us the benefits a lifetime of tastefully experimenting with expressive cues within this music brings.
Like Bach for keyboard players, the myriad of musical communication and performance options built into set styles or
structures in Chopin’s music can easily occupy us for a lifetime. Ohlsson’s tasteful and excitingly individual choices in this regard made his Chopin successful and new for us.
Ohlsson’s range of nuance already heard via Brahms’
delicate, passionate works was further championed when he presented Chopin’s Nocturne in B flat minor Op 9 No 1.
Upper register melodic lines were a stunning display of gentle eloquence here, answered with fleeting, almost extemporised moments of interest emerging in other voices or ranges of the keyboard.
This Nocturne’s central section, as in the Brahms Seven Fantasias was clear and questioning. It offered up many threads of feeling as the pianist earnestly set about untangling harmony and melody, creating many intimate variations, hues and shapes in response to the ingredients offered in the familiar score.
To conclude this sharing of well-blended and thoughtful works from the Romantic period giants, Garrick Ohlsson gifted us Chopin’s Piano Sonata No 3 in B minor Op 58. This sprawling yet riveting journey was one we could take safely with such an experienced guide to the composer at the keyboard.
The Largo third movement rang out beautifully in the space and rocked us with exquisite gentleness. The Scherzo second
movement bristled with caricature and contained energy and evenness of tone despite the movement required.
Moments of fullest sound were not overused as to lose impact or value across this work and indeed the entire programme.
Instead these peaks were worked towards with measured organic growth so they thrilled us for a selective and special time.
Ohlsson, seemingly inexhaustible, answered the cheering crowd at the end of this recital with four Chopin encores. These included etudes, a nocturne and mazurka ahead of an in-conversation event to follow in the Recital Hall venue.