Garrick Ohlsson’s Australia Tour Acclaim
A flawless recital by one of the giants of the piano.
It’s a form of nobility. And nobility is exactly what came to mind on Sunday night when listening to Ohlsson’s first ever Australian piano recital for Musica Viva, presented in association with Perth Festival. Nobility, and a richness of tone, which like Arrau’s could be described as orchestral, but deployed with such powerful rhetorical gestures that every paragraph seemed simultaneously carved from granite and spun from silk. There was also humour, which came through especially in an electrifying performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No 6 in A Major, Opus 82, but was there throughout in Ohlsson’s deferential yet warm stage demeanour…Each was a masterclass in what it means to be utterly fluent in a musical idiom. The Scherzo and Étude No 10 were especially fine, Ohlsson so beautifully holding in tension Chopin’s more explosive, technically challenging outbursts with the composer’s more lyrical utterances. For me, however, the highlight was Chopin’s nocturne-like Étude No 7 in C Sharp minor, with its spotlight on the left hand and that magnificent arabesque that sweeps down to the piano’s darkest regions. Here, every aspect of Ohlsson’s artistry was on display: nobility, yes; but in the exquisite phrasing and balance between voices something that was less poetry, more philosophy.
“Garrick Ohlsson plays Chopin as if he is in love with it. Like a good lover, he appreciates both the external structure and the internal magic of his subject. The second half of his recital in the Adelaide Town Hall last night was devoted entirely to Chopin, and in every piece one had the sense of a formal introduction to the piece, followed by a seduction into the mysteries each one contained…Ohlsson then gave a sequence of six études from Op 25. Both the G# minor one, the one in thirds, and the amazing cello elegy in C# minor which follows, were pure poetry, but behind this one was always conscious of the poised architecture of the works. Then he played the playful Gb étude, which is like a prototype for Scott Joplin, and the sequence culminated in the mighty octave study in B minor. The effect of this last was astonishing, the immense power of the outer sections and the burning lyricism of the middle section balancing each other, holding two impossibly extreme passages in miraculous equilibrium. And he made each of the Chopin pieces he played become a whole world…And then there was Prokoviev’s 6th sonata. The fantastic achievement of this performance was to keep the architecture of this vast canvas always in sight, despite the surface incoherence of so much of it. This is not music for the faint-hearted. Quite apart from its hair-raising difficulty, when I watched Ohlsson, such a giant, play it I expected to see the piano reduced to rubble at any moment…Ohlsson is an altogether astonishing pianist, with something unique to say. A great rarity in today’s world of glittering virtuosi…Then he surprised us all by playing Claire de Lune, incredibly softly, and leaving us all surrounded by the shimmering moonlight of Debussy’s most popular piano piece.”
“… a traversal of works by Chopin demonstrating Ohlsson’s powerful grasp of the composer’s unique sound-world and sense of musical structure. Like his mentor Arrau, Ohlsson takes Chopin seriously rather than treating it as salon music, deploying his own astonishingly command of colour as well as a classical sense of structure…After lending an improvisatory immediacy to the Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp major Op 36, effortlessly negotiating the fiendish technical demands of some of the Études Op 25, and conjuring up the dreamy delicacy of the Berceuse Op 57, the pièce de résistance was a thrilling rendition of the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor Op 39.”
The Daily Review, Perth
Perfection from a giant of the classical keyboard
“Garrick Ohlsson is a giant of the keyboard, but it is not his solid, towering physique that makes him so; rather an unerring sureness in his playing that imparts a sense of structure and balance to everything he performs…Ohlsson gave Prokofiev’s brutalist Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82, a vivid performance, rising to the extreme physical demands of the score with amazing economy of motion, and seeming barely to raise a sweat. A supreme colourist, Ohlsson gave the outer movements much-needed light and shade, while making the third movement’s surreal waltz an almost psychedelic experience. The second half of the program was devoted to Chopin… Ohlsson wrung every last drop of heartache from No.7 and magnificently celebrated the heroism of No.10. Beginning simply, the celebrated Berceuse, Op. 57, grew in intensity and was bathed in brilliant hues, leading directly into the Scherzo in C-sharp minor, Op. 39, which once again saw Ohlsson unite technique and poetry in ideal balance. This rare perfection, viewed from a giant’s perspective, should not be missed.”
Sydney Morning Herald
“Garrick Ohlsson gave a masterful performance of Brahms and Chopin that lingered long after the show ended. So relaxed and economical is Garrick Ohlsson’s performance style that the listener might be lulled into absorbing his music in a comfortable frame of mind, until the moment when the pianist’s mastery twists the familiar phrases into something quite provocative. The joy of live performance is that the experience is multi-layered: one hears the personal interpretation of the soloist, but there are also memories that chime in – and these are as powerful as the audible melodies. I had admired Ohlsson’s rendering of the contrasting program of works by Brahms and Chopin, but his second encore, The “Revolutionary” Etude Op. 10 No.12 ambushed me with the embodiment of the raw anguish of Chopin at 21 when he heard of the Russian attack on Warsaw and wrote the work…It was an electric connection from Ohlsson that abruptly removed the tarnish of the working day, bathing the senses in the brightness of youth translated into music. It is easy to become blasé about the ability of professional musicians to perform a program from memory, but Ohlsson personifies the meaning of “knowing the music by heart”… In these pieces we heard Ohlsson’s magical ability to extract a delicate, even-toned pianissimo of extraordinary beauty from the Steinway…Ohlsson has the ability to transform a descending run into liquid light, so evenly spaced and balanced are the notes he strokes from the keys.”
The Canberra Times
“Who better than Garrick Ohlsson to bring this music to life in the 21st century? Performing on a Steinway concert ‘grand,’ the gentle giant held his audience spellbound with a dazzling display of virtuosic playing. Ohlsson’s instinct for the music, technical brilliance and intellect, facilitated by his physique, make a rare combination. Ohlsson is 193 cm tall, (6’4”) with a legendary hand span that stretches a 12th in his left hand and an 11th in his right. His knees barely fold under the keyboard…It is already an unforgettable highlight of the year to have heard Garrick Ohlsson, who along with the likes of Rubinstein, Richter, Benedetti, Argerich and Cortot, will be remembered as one of the greatest interpreters of Chopin.”
Sounds Like Sydney
“He is considered the leading Chopin expert of his day and in the second program of his current tour he showed us why in a memorable performance of the Piano sonata No.3, alongside the Nocturne in B minor Op 9 No.1 and three encores. Before we got to the Chopin Ohlsson opened the concert with some vintage Brahms – the two rhapsodies, the Seven Fantasias written at the end of his life and the showpiece blockbuster Variations on a Theme of Paganini. The second of the rhapsodies – one of Brahms’ best-known piano pieces – features some powerhouse playing, especially in the thundering left-hand passage that carries its famous tune, and there were also plenty of muscular moments in the fantasias and variations. But it is the singing, poetic lines that stay in the mind…Ohlsson’s performance pinpointed the intricate architecture of the work…The audience didn’t want to go home and the American virtuoso indulged them with three gemlike Chopin encores, bring the evening to an emphatic close with the four stabbing closing chords of the Revolutionary Etude.”
“Garrick Ohlsson is a magician at the piano and the magic is especially potent when it comes to the astonishing quality and variety of tone colours he produces. He saved the best for last in this wide-ranging recital, with two encores that allowed listeners to savour the whole palette at his fingertips, from thunderous fortissimos to the merest whisper. Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C# minor and Debussy’s Claire de Lune held the audience spellbound, less because of the music but much more because of Ohlsson’s breathtaking sonics that floated, wafted and generally dazzled. Ohlsson’s worldwide reputation as a Chopin player obviously rests on his uncanny way with the keys but his sense of timing, of rubato and utter poise also make him an entirely perfect fit for Chopin’s unique style…Chopin’s discursive Scherzo in C# minor and less known Impromptu in F# minor benefited from the searching depth of Ohlsson’s penetrating intellect and unremitting sense of focus.”