Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
Opera
VERDI'S THEATRICAL LA TRAVIATA TRIUMPHS AT CINNABAR
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Symphony
MARIACHI MEETS ORCHESTRA AT THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Choral and Vocal
RARE MOZART COUPLING COMPLETES SONOMA BACH'S SEASON IN SCHROEDER
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, May 28, 2022
EXOTIC RUSSIAN MUSIC FEATURED IN MV PHIL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PREMIERES DAUGHERTY SKETCHES OF SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Chamber
BRAHMS-ERA TRIOS HIGHLIGHT OAKMONT CHAMBER CONCERT
by Nicholas Xelenis
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Chamber
CHAMBER GEMS OF BRAHMS IN TRIO NAVARRO'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Judy Walker
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Recital
UNIQUE ELEGANCE IN GALBRAITH GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Friday, April 29, 2022
Symphony
VSO'S ELEGANT PASTORAL SYMPHONY SHINES IN EMPRESS RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Choral and Vocal
A SPIRITUAL FAURE REQUIEM IN GOOD FRIDAY CANTIAMO CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Friday, April 15, 2022
RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson In Napa Recital Dec. 16

OHLSSON TRIUMPHANT IN NAPA BEETHOVEN BIRTHDAY SONATA RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Virtuoso pianist Garrick Ohlsson is clearly at the top of his game, the latest evidence being a blockbuster Beethoven Sonata recital Dec. 16 in Napa’s United Methodist Church.

Celebrating the Bonn’s master’s 240th birthday and coming off a project recording all 32 Sonatas, Mr. Ohlsson met a jammed Chamber Music in Napa Valley audience with a balanced program featuring the familiar, not so familiar and rarely played. Many in the audience of 300 have heard the artist numerous times in the series, produced by wine moguls John and Maggie Kongsgaard, and greeted his entrance to the acoustically dead hall for the D Minor Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2 (Tempest), with loud applause.

The opening Allegro is storm and stress, and Mr. Ohlsson quickly disclosed a recital-long interest in instrumental color and contrast. He used the shift pedal a lot, getting hazy tints in the two recitatives and handling the tricky two-note slurs with ease. There was strong thematic projection in the Adagio and long sustained tones in the treble, carefully pedaled. In the agitated finale, the artist underscored its softly wistful nature, and the playing of the persistent four-note motive was never mechanical. The play of the registers with no ritards to the final pianissimo left-hand was masterful.

Before intermission the seldom programmed E Flat Sonata, Op., 27, No. 1, was for me the highlight of the recital. It’s not popular with audiences, and the four-movement work in unsympathetic hands can seem dense. Here the pianist set out the simple opening with firm rhythmic control, the last two chords haunting and leading subtly attaca subito to the Adagio. The pianist several times gave a little extra duration to the fermatas, adding to the expectation of the concluding rondo, interrupted near the end to reintroduce the melody of the slow introduction. Mr. Ohlsson made a strong case for the lyric building blocks of the piece, some parts sounding fugal but always in judicious balance. Obviously he has given this work countless hours of study in the studio.

From 1809, the F Sharp Sonata (Op. 78) opened the second half with unaffected directness, Mr. Ohlsson’s exact chordal weighting a delight to hear. His technique cannot abide phrases without sonorous chords and precisely equal inflection in both hands. The usual graceful caprice of Allegro Vivace was played here almost raucously, the left hand crossing to trenchant treble accents.

In recent years an approach to the concluding F Minor Sonata, Op. 57 (Appassionata) has arisen that stresses the great work’s architectural design and interlocking segments over the conventional dramatic qualities. Readings by Till Fellner and Andras Schiff come to mind. Earlier this season Sandro Russo on the Concerts Grand series would have none of this, grabbing for the emotional nucleus, and Mr. Ohlsson’s performance followed suit, taking no prisoners. The quiet opening turned volcanic with the evening’s first really big forte sound, the potent F Minor key resounding to the last row in the lovely church. There were a few surprising inner voices in the first movement, surprising in that the Appassionata isn’t a piece for wayward experiments in interpretative individuality. It’s a work that the artist exploited with a lovely detaché touch and finger staccato in the short variation movement, Beethoven’s chaste melody uppermost. Mr. Ohlsson always emphasizes the essentials in his conceptions, leaving the inessentials to subsidiary lines and occasional appearances.

A ferocious arpeggiated chord, carried with the pedal from the previous measure, announced the 13 titanic chords that launched the tremendous sweep of the Allegro ma non troppo. There was never any pounding, regardless of the tsunami of sound the pianist wrung from the instrument. But the contrasts in low-volume playing were also never absent, the four right-hand chords over the midpoint pedal point c a telling break to the music’s grandeur. The last section in Presto was compelling, the artist never losing control and never giving a thought to underplaying the excitement.

Of course a thunderous standing ovation followed, and there was palpable curiosity on what encore(s) might be offered. A late Beethoven Bagatelle? The frisky “Rage Over A Lost Penny”? Mr. Ohlsson’s patrician side then emerged when he played a nuanced middle movement (Andante cantabile) from the Pathétique Sonata in C Minor. Here his rock-solid rhythmic sense never left him, nor in the following “Revolutionary” Study of Chopin, Op. 10, No. 12.

In this year of Chopin’s 200th birth, Garrick Ohlsson has been playing mostly the Pole’s immortal music, but if one asked the Napa audience Thursday night, the verdict would be to have this formidable pianist, at an exalted stage of his youthful career, to program Beethoven Sonatas forever.