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NSO, Mälkki, and Ohlsson

Saturday evening, Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki (pictured) led the National Symphony Orchestra and pianist Garrick Ohlsson in a program of Lindberg, Mahler, and Beethoven. Magnus Lindberg describes his Parada (2002) as a “continuous expression.” As a result, the work is paced at a rate for maximum auditory absorption due to its slow-scherzo-slow form, where much meaning is conveyed in just twelve minutes. The strings made lush sounds spiked with color from the brass and winds, while the percussion section reinforced the texture instead of becoming it, particularly with their tinkling bell tree. In fluid strokes, the batonless Mälkki kept a work continuously offering new material from becoming just short, temporal thoughts.

Mälkki held the reins of Mahler’s Adagio from the unfinished tenth symphony extremely tightly by attempting to give a gesture to as many notes as possible. While this approach might generally be effective and necessary with contemporary music -- Mälkki is Music Director of the renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain -- such tight, inflexible control stifled the natural musical inclination of the NSO musicians while narrowing dynamic and expressive ranges. Repetitions sounded like repetitions, instead of memories heard again after a significant experience over time. Mälkki failed to enhance what the NSO musicians were already capable of achieving, and it would have been interesting to hear the musicians play the extended movement sans conductor, which likely would have resulted in a better experience for the listener and musician alike.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Susanna Malkki makes gentle, assured music with National Symphony (Washington Post, November 19)

Terry Ponick, Ohlsson, Malkki give Beethoven a new look (Washington Times, November 19)

Mike Paarlberg, Susanna Mälkki, Garrick Ohlsson, and the NSO at the Kennedy Center (Washington City Paper, November 19)
Once Garrick Ohlsson lowered his bench adequately, the formidable American pianist offered a pleasing performance of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto (“Emperor”). Ohlsson struck a perfect balance with the reduced orchestra and elicited a full spectrum of tones. Cadenzas were fluid and scales sparkling, yet Mälkki did not allow a bit of extra time needed for some of his arpeggios. The slow movement veered toward boredom, even with plenty of pianistic sweetness, found in the Mahler with Mälkki trying to cue everything that was on the page, which the musicians can easily play, instead of bringing the notes off of the page. The final movement was thrilling with fugal clarity and many opportunities for the NSO’s outstanding new timpanist to shine. Ohlsson was generous in offering the audience a Chopin C# minor waltz as an encore.

1 comment:

Robert Valente said...

Sounds like Friday nigh was better. The Mahler was structured but lyrical, and Ohlsson was in sync with the conductor, the arpeggios shining through brilliantly. The Opus 42 Chopin Waltz was a real treat as an encore.