The pianist made a marvelous Mozartian

Garrick Ohlsson an elegant guest with the Philadelphia Orchestra22 Feb 2017

Garrick Ohlsson is a pianist of enormous power, but on Friday afternoon with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he was the perfect Mozartian. In the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, with conductor Herbert Blomstedt as his kindred spirit, all was orderly and deliberate. Mozart, they argued, is an excellent place for detail work. Contrasting fluidity with a considerably more lithe articulation, Ohlsson shifted the character of the music naturally one way or the other in ways  that were a constant source of insight.

His were not the only elegant hands at work. Blomstedt had great influence. At 89, he exudes confidence, which you felt must have had something to do with the ease that rose from flutist David Cramer and oboist Peter Smith in the second movement. The third movement ensemble sound was especially cushy, right down to the timpani and pair of trumpets. Here, Ohlsson had great dash.

What’s remarkable is that Blomstedt does so much with so little physicality. His hands, though, are downright balletic, sometimes signaling a turn in the music with little more than a flick of the index finger of his right hand.

He used no baton in the Mozart — nor in Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. The conductor sat in a chair, the score unopened before him, and produced a remarkably beautiful, unsentimental, confident Brahms. Not that it was unemotional. Nuance was the word — in the first movement particularly, with regard to shifting mood and ensemble color, with crescendos and decrescendos playing out judiciously over many bars.

The second movement was a story in itself. Blomstedt seems to hear this music as pastoral, but as a forest of light and shadows. What a marvelous lower string sound the orchestra produced in response to clarinetist Ricardo Morales, and after principal oboist Richard Woodhams entered, there came song, and then a little menace.

Leave pure sweetness to others. At his age, Blomstedt understands that nothing is simple, and it is his job to show us what lies beneath many a smooth surface.

By Peter Dobrin, Classical Music Critic
Philadelphia Inquirer
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