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Obstructed View

New York
Weill Recital Hall
12/08/2000 -  
Robert Schumann: Three Romances; Presto passionato
Benjamin Britten: Temporal Variations
Johann Kalliwoda: Morceau de salon
Francis Poulenc: Sonata
Maurice Ravel: Oiseaux tristes; Alborada del gracioso
Antal Dorati: Duo concertante

Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe)
Lidija Bizjak (piano)

We have all had the experience: anticipating an exciting evening at the cinema, theater or sports arena, we show up only to find that our sight is blocked by a pillar or post, a very tall occupant of the seat in front of us, or some other anomaly (I have a friend who sat directly behind Evgeny Kissin at the opera and couldn’t see anything all night because of all that hair). Not that my sight lines were at all obscured in the intimate setting of Weill Recital Hall; rather I use this image as a metaphor for my concert-going experience last evening as I endeavored to enjoy the double debut of oboist Alexei Ogrintchouk and pianist Lidija Bizjak. Of Ms. Bizjak more later, for now I must confess to never warming up to the double reed player: I just couldn’t get past that sound.

Mr. Ogrintchouk is trained in the French manner which de-emphasizes reed selection and leads to very tight embouchure. He seemed to be suffering physically throughout the recital, so hard had he to work to keep his air flow steady and elongated. He did athletically prevail in his efforts, however, and so the strain of his visage did not translate to his music. What came out of his instrument though was a sound which I can only describe as, well, ugly. This is the sound of the shawm, more evocative of Middle Eastern or South Asian instruments like the oud or the shahnai. Although Mr. Ogrintchouk could control his beast tolerably well, it reminded not of The Swan of Tuonela but rather those duck calls of Messiaen achieved by playing only with the mouthpieces of brass instruments. This is a rude sound in both senses of the word and woefully unable to put over the beauty inherent in some of the recital pieces. To further aggravate the experience, Mr. O plays constantly with his bell up, projecting trumpet-like throughout the hall and has an annoying habit of snapping his instrument down when not playing, conveying a rather off-putting smugness.

Having said all of this, he was really quite musical in the Schumann, phrasing poetically in spite of his finished acoustical product. Poor Schumann! This music was first played at Carnegie Hall on the harmonica! The Britten was a tired piece, assigned to the scrap heap by the composer himself. The Kalliwoda is familiar to all oboists and presents a series of runs and flourishes designed to spotlight pure technique. Our soloist of the evening has bags of the stuff, but oh that sound! After an unsatisfying rendition of the Poulenc we FINALLY heard a piece that was appropriate to this particular auditory phenomenon. The Dorati is filled with Magyar melodies that evoke the Near East and the snake charmer hypnotism of the instrument was now actually quite effective.

The yang to the yin was the playing of Ms. Bizjak. This recital was billed as a pair of “distinctive debuts” and thus she was granted three solo piano pieces on the program (prudent in any woodwind recital as the tooter needs a little break now and then). Her technique is solid and she proved quite up to the task in the Schumann and extremely deft and nimble in the Ravel. Her jester’s song could have been a little more disjointed and rhythmically daring, but overall her playing was interesting and secure. She also provided a solid ground as accompanist. It was clear that the pianist was much more pleasing to the crowd, which gave the whole recital an aura of embarrassing surrealism. Thinking back on Mr. Ogrintchouk’s performance I am reminded of Mark Twain, who once wrote after a performance of Parsifal that “Wagner’s music is actually much better than it sounds.”

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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