Ohlsson closes Frost Chopin Festival with brilliance, undimmed artistry

By Lawrence Budmen

Garrick Ohlsson performed at the Frost Chopin Festival Sunday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

The Frost Chopin Festival, in no small manner, left the best for last. 

Concluding a week of concerts, workshops and masterclasses, Garrick Ohlsson took the stage of UM Gusman Concert Hall on Sunday night for a formidable mini-recital of works by Brahms and Chopin. In 1970, Ohlsson became the only American ever to win the top prize at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. More than a half century later, his technique remains intact, his interpretative authority and mastery unabated.

Ohlsson opened with Brahms’ Piano Sonata in C Major, Op. 1. In this first published work, Brahms’ distinctive voice is already present. The expansive thematic development and heroic motifs resounded splendidly under Ohlsson’s hands. There was grand line and vigor in the opening Allegro but Ohlsson could also bring a pearly touch to the lyrical contrasts. Formal rigor, emotive power and a tightly conveyed sense of proportion and shading abounded in a majestic reading of the Andante. Fleet- fingered intensity and brilliance alternated to felicitous effect in the Allegro molto scherzo. Ohlsson’s wide spectrum of dynamics effectively captured Brahms’ light and dark palette. At a whirling tempo, Ohlsson blazed through the Allegro con fuoco finale with the secondary theme given broad gravitas and eloquence.

Turning to Chopin, Ohlsson demonstrated that he remains one of the finest interpreters of the Polish master’s works. His affinity for the aristocratic romantic idiom was immediately evident in the Barcarolle, Op. 60. This was patrician Chopin playing with arpeggiated trills perfectly articulated and melodic outpourings conveyed sensitively. The Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49 requires virtuosic sweep, elegance and depth of expression. Ohlsson was in total command of all of those challenges. The cascading fireworks of the coda concluded a dramatic and finely inflected traversal.

Ohlsson brought percussive flair to the Scherzo in C-sharp minor, Op. 39. Throughout his Chopin group, Ohlsson’s probing musicality produced consistent insights in familiar repertoire. A standing ovation from the full house brought him back for a soft and delicate version of Debussy’s Clair de lune.

The program’s first half featured four outstanding students from the Frost Chopin Academy. 

Da Jin Kim, 27, from South Korea and a student at the UM Frost School of Music, commenced the evening with a thunderous, muscular performance of Chopin’s Rondo in E-flat Major. Christopher Shin, 16 from New Jersey and a recipient of support from the Chopin Foundation (which co-sponsored the academy and festival), gave an emotionally passionate reading of the Ballade in G minor, Op. 23, replete with personal interpretive imprints. 

Madison Yan, 18 and also a Frost student and Chopin grantee, imbued the Nocturne in B Major , Op. 62, No. 1 with deft lightness and grace. Athena Deng, 19 from Canada and studying at the Oberlin Conservatory, played the Ballade in F minor, Op. 52 in beautifully proportioned fashion. Every note was well placed, the singing lines effectively delineated. Transitions between glowing melodies and big boned volleys were seamlessly achieved. 

These four young players vividly projected the fine work and teaching at the Frost Academy project.

Posted in Performances

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Mon Jun 27, 2022
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