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A Committed Salesman of Chopin Does His Thing

02.06.10
Garrick Ohlsson
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Schumann, whose compositional gift for description extended to words, aptly referred to Chopin’s music as “a cannon buried in flowers.” A powerful tension often simmers beneath the surface of Chopin’s aristocratic, elegant works, like the Prelude in D flat (Op. 28, No. 15). In that piece, performed by Garrick Ohlsson on Wednesday evening at Alice Tully Hall, a serene melody is underpinned by a repeated note that becomes angrily more insistent until the calm is shattered, then seamlessly restored.

Mr. Ohlsson has been prominently associated with Chopin’s music since he became the first American to win the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1970, and his recital was part of Lincoln Center’s Chopin Project, a celebration of the composer’s bicentennial.

His excellent interpretations of the Opus 28 Preludes, 24 tiny tone poems of perfect construction and dramatically contrasting character, were memorable, especially his rendition of the Prelude No 9, played with the requisite nobility; his singing tone in the poetic No. 15; an impressive athletic prowess in the whirlwind No. 16; and a profound solemnity in the funeral march of No. 20.

Chopin advanced the technique of piano playing, often horrifying conservative pedagogues in the process, and created startling new sonorities. His daring chromatic harmonies can be heard in works like the C sharp minor Scherzo….

The program also included the Fantasy in F minor and the Impromptu in F sharp.

The loveliest moments came during the encores. In a recent interview on “Soundcheck,” on WNYC-FM (93.9), Mr. Ohlsson said that — “to be a little crass” — he has known since 1970 that “Chopin sells.” It also keeps people in their seats; hardly anyone in the packed hall left before he had finished his three encores, which included a colorful rendition of the Étude in C sharp minor (Op. 10, No. 4) and an exquisite rendering of the Waltz in C sharp minor (Op. 64, No. 2).