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Garrick Ohlsson: Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov

09.10.10
Garrick Ohlsson
BBC Music Magazine

By Erik Levi

Running Time: 69:25 mins
Label: Bridge
Catalogue Number: 9320
Performance: *****    
Sound: *****

Composer(s): Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov
Works: Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 2; Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

Garrick Ohlsson demonstrates strong credentials as an interpreter of Russian music in this impressive recital. He brings a tremendous variety of colour to Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, drawing out different strands of the polyphonic texture and controlling the work’s overall architecture with impeccable pacing.

Making sparing yet subtle use of the pedal, his somewhat ascetic interpretative style is akin to the composer’s own. Likewise, Ohlsson’s Prokofiev is lean and muscular, finding clarity and precision in the faster toccata-like passages of the outer movements while achieving an almost impressionist haze in the reflective and emotionally intense Andante.

Whereas the Rachmaninov and Prokofiev are recent recordings captured in rich digital sound, the Mussorgsky is taken from a recital in Prague’s Rudolfinum in May 1974. The engineers have managed to tame the resonant acoustics of the hall, but I wonder whether the microphones were placed just a little too close to the hammers of the keyboard.

Certainly in movements such as ‘Bydlo’ and ‘Baba-Yaga’ the sheer ferocity of sound emanating from the piano becomes a bit wearing on the ears, while ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ seems rushed in places and lacking in grandeur.

Mind you, one can also understand why Ohlsson approved the release of this performance, for the execution and articulation in ‘The Unhatched Chickens’ and ‘The Market Place at Limoges’ are breathtaking, and the playing as a whole conveys a level of excitement that would be difficult to replicate in the recording studio.