You don’t play at the piano, you make the piano your collaborator

Your Essential Listening Guide to American Pianist Garrick Ohlsson04 Mar 2018

“You don’t play at the piano, you make the piano your collaborator,” says celebrated American pianist Garrick Ohlsson. But he could just as easily be describing how many musicians feel about performing the music of Beethoven. While the Classical/Romantic composer was very detailed in his score markings, there are myriad ways to interpret their execution.
Da Camera presents Garrick Ohlsson in a concert featuring the works of Beethoven exclusively at 8 pm on Friday, March 2, 2018. The program includes Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique;” Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata;” Sonata in C Major, Op. 53 “Waldstein;” and Sonata in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight.”

Let’s tickle the ivories back to 1970, when Garrick Ohlsson became the first American to win gold in the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland. The then-22-year-old young virtuoso received the highest accolades for his rendition of Chopin’s “Mazurkas,” Op. 41. This collection of works in triple meter are among some of the most beautiful versions of the Polish folk dance ever written. Thanks to the internet, we can listen to this seminal performance that shows Ohlsson at his best.

It’s often said that one can tell an artful musician from a technician by listening to tender, intimate passages that display attributes such as restraint, pacing and tonal colors. Whether a music cognoscente or a neophyte, listeners will gravitate to Claude Debussy’s impressionistic masterpiece “Clair De Lune” for its gentle lilting gestures and sensual harmonies that makes us sigh with inner peace. This recording is from Ohlsson’s 1992 album, “Debussy: 12 Etudes / Suite Bergamasque.”

Turning to the dark side of piano, Liszt’s “Funérailles” is the kind of work that scares the living daylights out of listeners. The gloomy composition is a response to the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution by the Hapsburg empire—three of Liszt’s friends suffered as a result of the failed uprising. In the handling of the angular rhythms and anguish-filled melodies, Ohlsson demonstrates his full artistic range.

Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” is like a long program in Olympic ice skating, a mixture of gorgeous sympathetic fragments nestled within whirls and twirls that take one’s breath away. This live video recording with conductor Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony concludes with a fabulous display of fireworks and the expected standing ovation.

We finish this listening guide with Beethoven, the focus of this Da Camera performance on March 2, 2018, at Stude Concert Hall inside Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Ohlsson’s recording of the German composer’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, otherwise known as “Pathétique,” is crystal clear, unencumbered and dramatic, revealing the many voices and layers that Beethoven packs into a solo sonata.

Da Camera