Chamber music and recital

Garrick Ohlsson: Chopin Recital

Garrick Ohlsson in Beijing.

Date: July 11, 2010
Location: The National Centre for the Performing Arts (The Egg), Beijing.

Garrick Ohlsson came to Beijing as part of the NCPA’s Chopin anniversary series, following the acclaimed act of Li Yundi and before the likes of Maurizio Pollini and Vladimir Ashkenazy arrive in autumn.

Ohlsson’s program began with Impromptu #2 (Op. 36), the outset of which felt somewhat tentative, if only because a good handful of the audience was still scrambling to get to their seats. After igniting his gears with a series of rolling arpeggios, Ohlsson warmed up and found his comfort zone with Ballade #3 (Op. 47), especially in the mezza voce sections, in which Ohlsson’s robust, spiraling virtuosity was in full display. Fantasie Op. 49 came next, but only after sustained delays due to continued movement by latecomers to their respective seats. The Fantasie, well known for its mystic and unpredictable textures, was rendered with the kind of mystique and charm akin to a lethargic landscape in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

The program then proceeded with three Mazurkas (Op. 7-2, 7-3, 30-4). In Op. 7-3, Ohlsson controlled pace with temperament, yielding a flow that felt and tasted like warm, sweet milk. After the Mazurkas, many audience members proceeded to applaud — only then to be signaled by Ohlsson that he would wish to continue into Scherzo No. 3 without interruption. That was a curious choice by Ohlsson as there was very little overlap, in terms of themes and sequences, between the last Mazurka and the Scherzo; the only link between the two pieces, as it seemed to me, was the identical key signature. The choice seemed to have robbed the Scherzo of an independent, prepared entrance, which in my opinion offered the necessary deference to the highly-recognized and celebrated intro to the piece. That said, Ohlsson proceeded with dazzle, going through the difficult passages with apparent ease while meandering through the more lyrical passages with restraint and control.

After intermission, Ohlsson labored through 24 Preludes (Op. 28) just under 40 minutes. His timekeeping was impeccable, never straying far from the composer’s scored intent. His presto had plenty of energy, with a kind of progressiveness that was aggressive but never enraging. Ohlsson cultivated a feisty and playful final molto allegro, and later juxtaposed it with a final largo that was weighty and circumspect.

Ohlsson finished the evening with two encores: Chopin’s Waltz Op. 64-2, and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 3-2. The waltz came with quite a bit of mannerism, with a ranging tempi and added staccatos. Against the backdrop of the waltz, his Rachmaninoff oozed the monumental weight of a historic drama and that of an ultimate judgment — as if also foretelling the conclusion to World Cup 2010.