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Garrick Ohlsson at Strathmore

Garrick Ohlsson, pianist
Garrick Ohlsson, pianist
Tuesday evening, the Washington Performing Arts Society presented pianist Garrick Ohlsson in a thoughtful solo recital of Handel, Brahms, and Chopin. The first half paired Handel's Suite No. 2 in F, HWV 427, with Brahms's twenty-odd Variations and Fugue in B-flat on a Theme by Handel. Ohlsson's selection of the Handel only made sense after experiencing the Brahms, which is in a nearby key, has a gentle, melodic theme similar to content found in the suite, and also ends with a dazzling fugue. The Brahms Variations are arguably a bit light on variety of sound, as one variation would be in the lower octaves of the piano with another later sounding unimaginatively similar, yet in a higher register; one a melodious soprano, another a melodious tenor, and so on. In fairness, the mysterious canon variation (5th) stood out as did others that reminded one of Brahms's idyllic Intermezzos, op. 117. The impressive fugue might have benefited from a bit more rhetorical punctuation at its conclusion.

Ohlsson's greatest achievement was his focus on voicing all lines to achieve absolute clarity. Consequently, his sparing use of the damper pedal nicely suited Strathmore's wet acoustic, especially in the Chopin that composed the second half of the program. The Barcarolle was so flawless that it made the abundance of fingerprints and dirt on the ebony Steinway most unsightly.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Garrick Ohlsson at Strathmore Hall (Washington Post, November 10)
The meandering Mazurka in c-sharp minor (op. 50, no. 3) had a complexity that challenged the listener to follow its path. Ohlsson programmed Chopin's Sonata No. 3 in B Minor in his 2008 Kennedy Center recital, which was also presented by WPAS, for whom he has appeared for forty years. The second-movement Scherzo: Molto vivace's quickness and clarity, with barely any pedal, contrasted nicely to the sweet, lilting tune of the third movement Largo. Similar to the 2008 performance, the Finale: Presto non tanto was accurate, while being both free and discreetly restrained, yielding a proud affect before culminating in sonic waterfalls.

The next concert in the WPAS series will feature John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, in an all-Beethoven program (November 19, 3 pm).

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