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A Master’s Example

Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/04/2018 -  
Johannes Brahms: Eight Pieces Op. 76 – Variations on an Original Theme Op. 21 No. 1 – Variations on a Hungarian Song Op 21, No. 2
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude in C-sharp minor Op. 45 – Scherzo in B minor Op. 20 – Mazurkas in C-sharp minor Op. 50 No. 3 & in F minor Op. 7 No. 3 – Ballade in G minor Op. 23

Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

G. Ohlsson (Courtesy of Honens)

The 2018 Honens International Piano Competition put on its Festival hat for this recital by this year’s Mentor in Residence, Garrick Ohlsson, himself a winner of two competitions, Montreal in 1968 and Warsaw’s Chopin Competition in 1970. He has had enviable staying power since.

If one word sums up the recital, it is “masterful”. This was fully demonstrated in the opening work, Brahms’ Eight Pieces Op. 76. There is nothing flashy here and there might be a danger that it comes across in a staid or gloomy way, despite four of the pieces being titled Capriccio (the others are Intermezzos). Each note has a certain weight to it but also a melting quality (how does a pianist manage that?) The Intermezzos come across as intimate and/or wistful, the Capriccios rather bolder. The second one seems to be an off-kilter dance, for example, and the third is almost stormy. The final one achieves a kind of understated grandeur.

I don’t think the two sets of variations of Opus 21 are played that often (unlike the much more familiar Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel that were given an exuberant performance by 22-year-old semi-finalist Aristo Sham just the day before). The Variations on an Original Theme has a stateliness about it, but it does liven up with some bouncy passages. After a very brief pause Ohlsson launched the Variations on a Hungarian Song, with its czardas-like melody and anthem-like conclusion.

The second half was devoted to the composer who I think of as Ohlsson’s specialty, Frédéric Chopin. The chosen works presented an array of contrasts, with the dreamy Prelude in C-sharp minor followed by a headlong launch of the leaping Scherzo in B minor.

The following two Mazurkas and then the Ballade in G minor presented similar contrasts. The Ballade swept along to a very grand finish.

There was a single encore, the Waltz in A-flat Major Op. 64, No. 3 given, as one would expect, exactly the right touch.

Michael Johnson



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