MSO concert featuring Ohlsson gets big shot of energy

Garrick Ohlsson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Elaine Schmidt

Sometimes the tried-and-true just needs a little shot in the arm.

Friday evening's Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert, led by music director Edo de Waart and featuring pianist Garrick Ohlsson, did just that. The program filled the once-standard format of overture-concerto-symphony with a lineup of fascinating pieces and passionate music making.

Ohlsson played Chopin's "Concerto No. 2, in F minor," written when the composer was not yet 20. In Ohlsson's persuasive interpretation, one heard the composer's youth and exuberance and the concerto's place in music history.

Instead of imposing purely Romantic era sensibilities on the piece, Ohlsson delivered the concerto's many bits of classical style with a bold, bright sound and tremendous energy. He used a softer hand and a broader palette of colors to create fluid, urgent statements with the piece's romantic moments.

The result was a thoroughly compelling performance that was at once musically satisfying and intellectually intriguing.

Ohlsson answered a vigorous standing ovation with an encore of Chopin's "Waltz in E flat, Op. 18." He played with tremendous character and rhythmic pull, making the piece's smallest, most delicate passages and its compelling dance figures equally colorful and meaningful.

Those sweeping lines, full of the pulse of the waltz, generated delightful moments of spontaneous swaying among audience and orchestra members alike.

A thoroughly involving reading of Elgar's "Symphony No. 1" begged the question: Why isn't this piece played more often?

De Waart led a soaring performance that allowed the piece's many climactic moments to fill the hall, changing gears to find meaning in the piece's smallest, most introverted passages.

From the marvelous, long crescendo in the piece's opening moments to the perfect clarity of the many layers and textures of which the piece is constructed, the orchestra took its audience on a thoughtful guided tour of the symphony and it's complex architecture.

De Waart and the players opened the program with a clean, cohesive reading of Berlioz's "Overture to 'Beatrice et Benedict,' " playing with tremendous energy and musical focus.