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NSO Plays Schumann

Garrick Ohlsson, pianist
Garrick Ohlsson, pianist
On Thursday evening, the National Symphony Orchestra presented a programmatically pleasing concert of Schumann and Mozart conducted by Jun Märkl with Garrick Ohlsson as piano soloist. Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (“Spring”), on the second half of the program, was most musically pleasing, with bright trumpets and an abundance of activity for the winds. In this uplifting work, Schumann is constantly changing orchestrations (brilliantly), requiring the listener’s constant focus. The NSO finally appeared to give Märkl their full attention in this work. The quasi-cadenza in the final movement that builds from a choir of horns through flute solos, the wind section and eventually to the strings was wonderfully fresh.

The program opened with Schumann’s Konzertstück in F Major for Four Horns and Orchestra, op. 86. While the warm, round sound of the horns was a unique pleasure, some technical difficulties undermined their performance. Overcoming an instrument with dozens of feet of tubing played with one’s fist stuffed into a bell facing away from the audience is understandably challenging. While they tended to play behind the beat with heads buried downward into their stands, there were a number of inexcusable accuracy issues. To be fair, intonation inconsistencies might have been exacerbated by the extreme humidity spike through the afternoon. Perhaps the Friday and Saturday performances will be more satisfactory as the work seemed under-rehearsed.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, From the NSO and Märkl, Schumann With Verve (Washington Post, May 15)
It was a delight to experience Garrick Ohlsson -- a man of towering height and pianistic power -- perform Mozart’s delicate Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503. Through right-hand lines of a single voice Ohlsson created aural trajectories of magnificent detail. A first-movement theme had characteristics of the Marseillaise, high popping trills in the second movement were spring-like, and the musicians stoically played on through a medical emergency in the third movement near your reviewer’s seats when the orchestra was most closely attaining Ohlsson’s level of nuance. It is a pity that the NSO's Thursday performances often come across as a much needed dress rehearsal.

This concert will be repeated this evening (May 16, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The next major concert from the NSO will feature conductor Mikko Franck and soprano Karita Mattila (June 25 to 27).

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