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Garrick Ohlsson & Sir Donald Runnicles

Garrick Ohlsson & Sir Donald Runnicles Release The Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos

Reference Recordings has released The Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos played by GRAMMY-­winner Garrick Ohlsson, performing with the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra, conducted by Sir Donald Runnicles. This album was recorded during live Festival performances in July 2022. It debuted at number 4 on the Billboard Classical Charts and was a BBC Radio 3 Record Review Album of the Week.


A student of the late Claudio Arrau, Mr. Ohlsson is especially noted for his masterly performances of the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, as well as the Romantic repertoire. To­ date, he is the only American ever to win first prize in the International Chopin Piano Competition. Ohlsson has also been nominated for three GRAMMY Awards, winning one in 2008 for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance for Beethoven Sonatas, Vol. 3. This new recording represents a pinnacle in his career.

More than 60 years since its humble beginnings performing in a tent at the base of the Tetons, the Festival is now sought after for both listeners and performers alike as a destination to experience the finest in classical music throughout the summer. The Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra consists of top talent from across the world, including more than 220 musicians from 90 orchestras and 65 institutions of higher learning, many performing together each summer for over 25 years. The Festival, founded in 1962, also welcomes yearly some of the most sought-after soloists and visiting artists in classical music today. Under the baton of world-­renowned conductor Sir Donald Runnicles since 2005, these musicians come together to gather inspiration from the mountain setting and to provide spectacular music for Festival audiences.

In addition to being Music Director of GTMF, Sir Donald Runnicles is General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) since 2009, and in his final season as Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony since 2001. Runnicles enjoys close and enduring relationships with many of the most significant opera companies and symphony orchestras. His recording of Wagner arias with Jonas Kaufmann and the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin won the 2013 Gramophone Prize for Best Vocal Recording, and his recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin was nominated for a 2016 GRAMMY award for Best Opera Recording.

“whenever [Sir Donald Runnicles] and [Garrick] Ohlsson collaborate, time is never spent in conversation beforehand about tempos, phrasing or other details. They simply begin making music together and thus, in an exercise of intuitive symbiosis, arrive at their joint interpretation. The result, as heard here, is a spacious, unrushed account of these canonic works, forthright and yet deeply personal.

Of all pianists before the public today, Ohlsson’s technique is among the most honest. Every note is present and accounted for, nothing ever fudged, all within an exquisitely calculated proportionality. His approach is, above all, lyrical. In fact, listening to the slow movements of these concertos, one would be hard-pressed to name another performance that sings with greater contour, poise and clarity.…

My favourite of this set, however, is the Fourth. Here soloist and conductor outdo themselves in the execution of Beethoven’s subtlest expression. Orchestral balances are exquisite, drama abounds, the finale is fairly rollicking and Ohlsson plumbs the depths of the Andante con moto with the utmost simplicity. This is a bouquet of Beethoven concertos like no other.””
Gramophone (Editor’s Choice, June 2023)

“Garrick Ohlsson’s view of the canon reaffirms this authority as a discerning Beethovenian with noble things to impart…The freshness of these performances, from the 2022 Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, lies in their open-faced honesty. Gleamingly, they promise us the certainty that no note or angle will be misplaced, that the adventure of what Beethoven penned – rhythm, articulation, dynamics, texture – is what we’ll get. … Impeccable clarity and architecture, enveloping gran espressione (the Second’s Adagio), palatial tonal depth, sculpted sonority and thespian sovereignty are hallmarks of the music-making…Runnicles, as you’d expect, excels, on the one hand precision concerto partner, on the other powerful symphonist…the lines of the Lucerne or Estonian initiatives, the hand-picked Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra set first-class standards…the recording is classically purist and invitingly ambient…A rejuvenating investment.”
International Piano

“To perform all five Beethoven piano concertos as a cycle is to ascend one of the repertoire’s proverbial Everest-like peaks…a winning combination of factors sets apart this new contender by Garrick Ohlsson with Sir Donald Runnicles and the Grand Teton Music Festival…an inspired collaboration of strong-willed personalities…Combine all that with the superb quality of the engineering from the Reference Recordings label and this cycle, which the GTMF has chosen for its first commercial release, is in a class of its own.

The deeply grounded partnership between Ohlsson and Runnicles results in performances powered by a bracing, dynamic complementarity. It allows for distinctive priorities from Runnicles that at the same time enhance Ohlsson’s unwavering but always changing role as protagonist.…‘

But what may come as a surprise is the degree of rapport between Ohlsson and the GTMF Orchestra. It sounds like they’ve been playing together for years – not merely twice before. Runnicles, whose close bond with these musicians has long been a reliable source of strength and even identiy for the festival itself, returns to the image of a great singer working with an orchestra. ‘What informs his playing is not just phenomenal virtuosity and a phenomenal brain, but his love of singing. He’s trying to sound like the greatest singer in the world.’

Beethoven’s slow movements, in particular, are thus transformed into ‘glorious, long arias, with a continuity to the phrasing.…

‘With Garrick, I have the sense that you’re not even listening to him any more but you’re just listening to Beethoven,’ says Muenzer. He seemed to hit the sweet spot of allowing us to imagine that this is what Beethoven heard in his mind, even though we know modern instruments are being played. If this were the last recording I made, I would be thrilled. It happens to comprise the truest arrows, all of which hit the bullseye in every respect.’”
Gramophone (Feature)

“Ohlsson is never complacent, especially with these Beethoven works he must have played many times. From the first notes of Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, to the final joyous music-making of the “Emperor”, Ohlsson beguiles the listener with flawless technique and sparkling tone…

Kevin Harbison’s recording captures every scintilla of Ohlsson’s tone and phrasing. Good recordings capture the player, here we get a deep look into Ohlsson’s superior musicianship. A couple of times I listened to the three CDs with no break. Ohlsson’s consistency is enviable and I was never less than captivated…

After a few hours of glorious music-making, you’ll arrive at the mighty Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, and mighty it sounds. Ohlsson’s sound rings deep into the soundstage and his technique is sure-footed. A fabulous performance to cap off a great cycle…The orchestra is a wonderful accompanist throughout and Runnicles negotiates the conducting difficulties, especially the 4th and 5th (pizzicato timing) superbly well…Very highly recommended.”

“What imbued the 2022 festival with particular distinction was the presence of Garrick Ohlsson performing Beethoven’s five piano concertos. Despite being one of the most overrepresented cycles in the repertoire, the combination of Runnicles, a keyboard master like Ohlsson and the Grand Teton orchestra was bound to add another dimension to the undertaking…This set deserves to catapult straight to the top when it comes to choices for contemporary Beethoven Piano Concerto cycles!”
Limelight Magazine (Editor’s Choice)

“I started at the very end, with Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, to get a feel for recorded sound and the orchestral playing: both excellent, Sir Donald setting a dignified opening against a bustling allegro, an appreciable entrée to Garrick Ohlsson and the five Piano Concertos, beginning (for me) with the ‘Emperor’, a majestic account with considered conducting, a lively orchestra, and fastidious solos from Ohlsson, an architect, a lyricist, and a dynamic purveyor of the notes, the sort of address that takes the listener into the music without performer artifice or intervention for its own sake; thus No.5 is essayed with character, a trust in – and a focus on – the music, and vivid communication, the well-balanced recording capturing enthusiastic camaraderie between the musicians and the resulting spontaneous music-making, the slow movement being especially sublime, and the Finale an exhilarating and rhythmically vital ride, nicely modulated along the way.”
ColinsColumn.com (Colin Anderson, Classical Source)

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