Music Review: GARRICK OHLSSON IN RECITAL (The Wallis in Beverly Hills)

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by Tony Frankel on November 12, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


It’s been almost a half-century since Garrick Ohlsson won the International Frédéric Chopin Competition in Warsaw, so I attended his recital at The Wallis in Beverly Hills last Friday with a bit of trepidation. And seeing his large frame in person, I wondered at first that he should be hauling the piano not playing it. But as his recital before an enamored audience revealed, his take on Chopin remains not only crisp and bracing, but he also found voicings that I had never heard before. True that The Wallis’s theater is incomparable for an intimate recital, but Ohlsson sounded even fresher than years ago.

The awestruck patrons were so entranced by the Brahms Rhapsody No. 1 which opened the program that there was no applause before the No. 2 in G minor, which he played uber-romantically but without schmaltz. Indeed, Ohlsson did something I haven’t seen before: he didn’t stand up and take a bow after every piece. For the all-Brahms first act, he continued with the Fantasien, Op. 116, giving us a crystalline Capriccio in D minor; a lovingly languid Intermezzo in A; alacrity for the Capriccio in G minor; a tender and amazingly sensitive Intermezzo in E major; and introspective for the E minor. During the final two, he elucidated that uncanny ability to keep the melody hurling between hands, almost as if a third hand was in play. Extraordinary.

His feather-light dexterity made the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35 (Book II) rather a revelation with its textual diversity, range of colors, and incredible power.

But it was the Chopin in the second half that obliterated all which came before. Every Chopin admirer understands that there is an incredible elegance to all of Chopin’s music, but I think most certainly in the Nocturnes, that is indefinable — at once sensual and very spiritual. For the Nocturne No.1 In B Flat Minor Op.9 No.1, he exuded a sense of great balance and at the same time a depth that is unique. And for the Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, there are certainly adjectives such as “sublime” and “invigorating,”  but throughout, Mr Ohlsson delivered the most refined, thoughtful and exquisite pianism imaginable; his beauty of tone production was often heartbreaking, sending us to places never visited before.

The first encore was Chopin’s delightful Waltz No. 1 Op. 18 in E flat major (Grande Valse Brillante); I had to go home and listen to Rubenstein just to make sure I wasn’t imaging things; nope, Ohlsson was better with staccato notes like a wondrous mechanical ticking, seemingly impossible to play. For the second encore, the Master said, “You have to guess what this is,” and then launched into the famous Minute Waltz. To say that swirling cascades of joy enveloped me is an understatement. Truly one of the best recitals on record!

photos courtesy of The Wallis

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Recital
Bram Goldsmith Theater at The Wallis
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills
played Friday, November 8, 2019
for future events, call 310.746.4000 or visit The Wallis

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