Ohlsson’s conception and execution of the A Major Piano Sonata was revelatory

Inon Barnatan and Garrick Ohlsson deliver masterful performances of late Schubert music26 Mar 2018

It’s hard to go wrong constructing a program of late Schubert works. The challenge lies in finding a complementary mix of performers. Barnatan invited Garrick Ohlsson to play the Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959 and the two collaborated in a poignant account of the Fantasie in F Minor for Piano Four-Hands. For the radiant Piano Trio in B-flat Major, D. 898, violinist Erin Keefe made her La Jolla Music Society debut, joined by Barnatan on piano and Clive Greensmith on cello.

Barnatan and Ohlsson were excellent partners. There’s no tolerance for rhythmic discrepancies in four-hand piano music; a piano’s attack is so precise that playing just a smidgen ahead or behind becomes painfully apparent. The duo’s coordination in the Fantasie was practically telepathic, their tonal colors well matched. Their performance sounded as if a soulful pianist with 20 fingers lovingly interpreted this work.

Ohlsson’s conception and execution of the A Major Piano Sonata was revelatory. Tempos in the fast movements were slower than expected, Ohlsson’s overall sound graceful and restrained. This made Schubert’s dramatic interruptions and wanderings in the second and fourth movements all the more striking.

Ohlsson had a wide spectrum of piano colors at his disposal, which he tastefully deployed. This sonata is on a grand scale — playing all the repeats takes 45 minutes. A masterly performance requires that the pianist understand the architecture of the work, which Ohlsson admirably conveyed.

The evening concluded with Schubert’s sunny Piano Trio in B-flat Major. Schubert’s piano writing may not sound that hard to play, but any pianist can attest to its difficulty. It requires formidable technique to make his passagework legato and those awkward chords sing. Barnatan’s playing sounded effortless, and Keefe and Greensmith made Schubert’s melodies shine. Their performance may not have shed any new light on the Trio, but like a long unseen friend, the Trio slipped comfortably back into our lives and we were grateful to make its acquaintance again.

To read the full review, visit The San Diego Union-Tribune