NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra, pianist Garrick Ohlsson bring fine articulation, dynamics to concert

02.10.12
Garrick Ohlsson, Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Palm Beach Daily News

By Joseph Youngblood

The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra visited the Kravis Center Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon the first stop on its first U.S. tour, which will take it from Florida to California.

On Thursday, it performed a program of works by Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904). The conductor was Jacek Kaspszyk and the soloist was pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

The orchestra is large — the roster lists 93 names. Yet it is very responsive. The pianissimo passages are as quiet as they can be and still be heard; the fortissimos have a full, grand sound. The dynamic range is wide, and the ensemble is well balanced — the winds do not overwhelm the strings.

The concert opened with Szymanowski’s Concert Overture in E, Opus 12. This is an early composition by Szymanowski, written when he was but 23 years old; the work is very much in the style of Richard Strauss. The piece calls for the full orchestra, which is expertly deployed by Szymanowski. We were given a chance to hear the orchestra at its quietest and at its fullest, and a grand sound it was.

Well-articulated passages

Ohlsson, the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Opus 58, makes piano playing look easy. He doesn’t wave his arms or stare pensively into space. Rather, he looks straight ahead or at the conductor, while at the same time executing well-articulated passages propelled by the most subtle use of dynamics.

He has full control of the piano tone, and he plays with a quiet hand. From the gentle chords at the beginning to the smooth cadenza in the finale, everything was handled with elegance and good taste. Shouts of “Bravo!” were rewarded by one encore: Frederic Chopin’s Grand valse brillante in E flat, Opus 18, dating from 1832, and the earliest of the waltzes published during Chopin’s lifetime. Ohlsson first came to prominence more than 40 years ago as an interpreter of Chopin’s music, and he endowed this work with the most exquisite phrasing and articulation.

The concert concluded with Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Opus 70. The horn and oboe solos in the quiet opening were well presented. The orchestra was totally responsive to the conductor’s wishes, producing a fluid sound and balanced tuttis. The wind choir shined in the dramatic second movement, with clear solos by the flute, horn and oboe. The ending of this movement was marked by a total fade out. The rhythm of the scherzo shifted between six notes phrased as three groups of two and then as two groups of three. The flute solo was notable here. The finale was energetic.

In response to the loud applause, the orchestra presented a stirring reading of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.

Wroclaw (say “Vrotslav”) is in the area of Silesia, about 200 miles southwest of Warsaw, Poland. In Germany in the 19th century, the city was known as Breslau. In 1880, the University of Breslau awarded Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate; Brahms in return wrote and conducted the Academic Festival Overture.

New concert hall

“NFM” in the orchestra’s name stands for “National Forum of Music,” the name of the new concert hall in Wroclaw scheduled to open in 2013, which will be the home of the Wroclaw Philharmonic.

It is a fine orchestra, worthy of its new home.