Review: ISO features veteran pianist 

Garrick Ohlsson plays two works for piano and orchestra

click to enlarge Pianist Garrick Ohlsson
  • Pianist Garrick Ohlsson

Once again, in this season's final classical-subscription concert, Friday's Circle Theatre was packed, nearly sold out, in fact. Though I don't have the season's attendance records, it seems to me that the hall has been more nearly filled more often than in recent past seasons. To be sure, pianist Garrick Ohlsson may get considerable credit for Friday's turnout. But this weekend's program spreads its audience across four days, from Thursday's morning Coffee concert through the orchestra's Sunday afternoon Carmel Palladium appearance. I should not be surprised to learn that all four were well filled.

Returning from several weeks away with guest appearances, Krzysztof Urbański re-assumed the podium, conducting works of Chopin, Karol Szymanowski and Tchaikovsky -- Ohlsson playing in the first two. Following the break, Urbański led our players in Tchaikovsky's renowned Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36. And once again our music director showed his prowess, his command of his orchestral forces through each of the four movements.

Though I found Urbański's first movement's first theme to be on the slow side, he made a believer of me with his nuances of tempo and dynamics, and with his players' overall precision. Despite the canard that for a given work, there "is only one correct tempo," I'm convinced that this cannot be true, as Urbański demonstrated herein. Between the orchestra's opening fanfare led by three trumpets and three trombones to its reprisal in the Finale, here with an added bass drum, Urbański wove his way through the long, "fateful" first movement, the wistful slow movement, the Scherzo replaced by string pizzicati and a lovely woodwind trio, to the majestic fourth movement, we witnessed a seamless account of a Tchaikovsky masterwork, second only to the composer's Sixth ("Pathètique") symphony.

Opening the program Ohlsson joined the orchestra--or perhaps I should say: The orchestra served as a light backdrop to Ohlsson's dominant piano, in Chopin's Andante spianato et grande polonaise brilliante in E-flat for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 22. The polonaise began as a solo piano piece which Chopin later added a minimum orchestra, plus the lyric Andante spianato as a piano-only introduction. Both sections are often played as a piano solo. One hardly misses the orchestra, so dominant is the piano.

Adding to the piano's dominance is Ohlsson's exquisite pianism. He appeared to have cut his teeth on Chopin. The pulsating rhythms, the decorative figurations, the lyric themes--they all seemed second nature to Ohlsson.

The 1970 Chopin International Piano competition winner appeared next in Szymanowski's Symphony No. 4 for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 60 (1932). Contrasting with the Chopin, the orchestra assumes at least the importance of the piano. Filled with Modernism's launch in the early 20th century, craggy shades of Prokofiev here and there seemed manifest. Both pianist and conductor held sway over the three-movement work.

For dessert, the pianist encored with Chopin's Nocturne in F-sharp, Op. 15 No. 2. June 3

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Tom Aldridge

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