Garrick Ohlsson and Frédéric Chopin seem to be made for each
other. A greater percentage of Chopin's works--mostly solo piano--have held the
boards throughout the intervening decades than from any other composer you can
name. And these include his two early piano concertos, the second of which (No.
1 in publishing
order) was beautifully played on Friday by guest pianist Ohlsson and nicely
"accompanied" by ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański and his
mostly string players (the full orchestra is sparingly used). The last time our
symphony performed the Polish-turned-Parisian composer's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 in 2005, Ohlsson was at the
Throughout the wide dynamic range of Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11, Ohlsson's pianism:
his finger-work, his chords, his virtuosity served the cause of the music in
its context so perfectly it is hard to imagine anyone else doing it any better.
In its first movement, memorable tunes, exquisite harmonies, varied rhythmic
pulses--all hallmarks of Chopin's style--effused themselves into the listener
as completely as is possible to imagine.
Lasting 42 minutes, the concerto is unusually long for that
period (1830), its final two movements not quite holding up to the promise of
the first one. This produced a consciousness of "length" before it ended.
Ohlsson effectively rescinded that feeling by offering Chopin's very short--and
very exquisite--Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 64 No. 2, as an encore. Here his use
of rubato (tempo variance) in the second theme's repeat came across as pure
The Symphony No. 5 in
B-flat, Op. 100 (1944) was the most ambitious of the seven Sergei Prokofiev
wrote in that form. Joy seems to radiate throughout the Russian/Soviet
composer's four movements. Controlling a large assemblage of forces, Urbański
wove his way through its thematic thickets with dispatch.
The first movement, a broad sonata-form structure, has its
principal theme recurring at the fourth movement's opening. The second, with
its rapid tick-tock ostinato (continuously repeated figure), is a scherzo with a
dance like "trio" section, building to a runaway climax. The third, using a
slow three-note ostinato, is one I find the most difficult to process; it
doesn't appear to take us anywhere we want to go. But the grandiose final
movement surely does.
Throughout the symphony all the orchestral choirs,
especially the brass, are called on to perform as brilliantly as any symphonic
orchestration could demand, and our brass section met the challenge. Urbański,
in fact, had all his players well prepared for this onslaught: good precision,
good articulation, good tempo choices. Counting last weekend's Opening Night Gala,
our young music director has batted a thousand so far this season. Sept. 26-28; Hilbert Circle Theatre