Wigmore Hall - review

01.23.08
Garrick Ohlsson
theoperacritic.com

Chopin: A girl's desire; The ring; The warrior; Lithuanian song; Handsome lad
Rachmaninov: Christ is risen! How fleeting is love's delight; She is as beautiful as noon
Tchaikovsky: Was I not a little blade of grass; No, only one who knows longing; Zemfira's song
Szymanowski: Masques
Musorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death

Eva Podles - contralto
Garrick Ohlsson – piano

Big operatic voices don't always fit comfortably into the Wigmore Hall, they require some fining down to match the acoustics of a smaller space than they are accustomed to filling.  Eva Podles' recital last night was one of those rare, and very special occasions when a singer opened the lid of her soul and poured forth a stream of uninhibited emotion.   Uninhibited, but by no means uncontrolled, and with an unusual level of communication between performers - the distinguished pianist Garrick Ohlsson played the entire concert from memory and his eyes seldom left the singer.

Their programme was a substantial one and began, appropriately, with Chopin.  A couple of relatively simple love songs were set off by the martial beat of The Warrior with his steed, and then the intense despair of the Lithuanian Song.  

Next Rachmaninov: Khristos Voskres is justly a favourite of the baritone repertoire, but Podles can bring a colouring to her voice that is very comparable to a baritone, and she literally hurled out her final bitter condemnation of dishonoured mankind.  

A pause, and a shift to mellower but by no means less intense feelings, with familiar romantic songs by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, the first half ending with the comparative cheerfulness of Zemfira's lilting song.

After the interval, Garrick Ohlsson took over the platform, weaving a complex fantasy of sound in a virtuoso performance of Szymanowski's Masques.

Finally Musorgsky's great Songs and Dances of Death.  There is nothing whatsoever about Ewa Podles' appearance that suggests an evil spirit, yet she conjured up before our eyes a veritable fiend that coaxed with a mock lullaby, serenaded beneath a window, embraced and danced with a drunken peasant, vanquished a complete army, and above all rejoiced in a triumph of demonic power.

A performance of rare stature, justly rewarded by a tumultuous reception.