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Fantasias and flourishes

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
08/06/2008 -  
“Mostly Mozart Festival”:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492: Overture – Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K.503
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Opus 60

Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Lionel Bringuier (conductor)

L. Bringuier (© Jonathan Grimbert-Barré)

A concert by Garrick Ohlsson is always a surprise, no matter what he plays. He can sail through the most difficult Rachmaninoff with hardly a thought, he can play Chopin nocturnes as if in a candlelit 19th Century salon and Chopin polonaises pounded out in a large auditorium. At his last concert in New York, he performed Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto with almost unemotional muscularity with the Russian National Orchestra. It verged on coldness, but for simple strength, Ohlsson got it down right.

The pianist is not known for his Mozart, but for the Mostly Mozart Festival, he had little choice. Tackling Concerto Number 25, though, was actually more akin to his personality than Brahms.

This is not classifiable Mozart. It isn’t particularly elegant (oh, wait….all Mozart is elegant), not is it noticeably graceful (hmm, Mozart, like the best of actors, is always graceful), and it doesn’t have those whistleable melodies or the deeply profound slow movement which can woo audiences.

But this very late concerto does have those elements which could appeal to Ohlsson. First, it is highly complex, though you have to listen hard during the development of the first movement, since Mozart never wears his complexity on his sleeve. Second, this same movement can actually confuse audiences with its varying emotions, going from the joking to the solemn to the serene to the usual technical runs.

Only the best pianist can pull that opening movement together, and Ohlssen certainly did that. He drove his instrument inevitably from major to minor, from grandeur to intimacy. No time for inward thinking or secret motifs in this work (that is, unless you think the major theme is a restatement of La Marseilles, which it so much resembles.

The Larghetto (the tempo in my score, though the program calls it “Andante”) doesn’t give time for much inward thinking, but that was probably the way Ohlsson wanted it. Only in the finale does the piano skip along with a kind of restrained merriment. An oboe solo, some low string throbbing, and the piano comes in for a free-for-all almost fantasia-style playing.

The piece doesn’t exactly make audiences stand up and cheer, but Ohlsson was well rewarded for his energetic no-nonsense playing.

The concert also introduced the 30-something Lionel Bringuier to the New York podium. He has been winning countless awards in Europe, and next year will work with most major orchestra here, including the New York Philharmonic. He has obviously mastered his technique, for nothing was idiosyncratic about his brisk Mozart overture. And after the concerto, he finished off with a Beethoven symphony. Hopefully, his work this year will include works which show his unique musical personality.

Harry Rolnick



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