Sunday, February 25 , 2018, 1:38 am | Fair 51º


Margo Kline: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson Tuned In to Chopin

CAMA and Ohlsson bring the all-Chopin program to the Lobero Theatre

The great Garrick Ohlsson brought an all-Frédéric Chopin program to the Lobero Theatre on Saturday night, offering a full house a feast of soulful romanticism.

The Community Arts Music Association brought in Ohlsson, along with a Steinway grand piano shipped from Los Angeles for the occasion. The pianist rippled through a diverse selection of Chopin’s works, including Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Opus 35.

Perhaps the highlight of the program, this monumental work features the March Funebre (“Funeral March”) familiar throughout the Western world. The last time I heard it played live was more than three decades ago, with a young Van Cliburn performing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. That was a stirring performance; this was an even loftier expression of the composer’s understanding of mortality.

Certainly, Chopin was entitled to dwell on mortality. He died at age 39 after a stormy personal life — including his dalliance with George Sand (Baroness Dudevant) — and a sometimes controversial music career.

On this occasion, Ohlsson thoroughly explored his Chopin repertoire. He began with Three Nocturnes, Opus 9, exemplifying Chopin’s dramatic, poetic version of “night music.” Then came the Polonaises, Opus 40, No. 1 in A Major (“Militaire”) and No. 2 in C Minor. Ohlsson played them with great authority.

He brought the first half of the program to a close with the Sonata No. 2. During the intermission, a technician worked on the Steinway to return it to top tuning, after Ohlsson’s powerful playing.

Ohlsson led off the second half with Variations in B-Flat Major on “Je vends des scapulaires” from Ferdinand Herold’s “Ludovic,” Opus 12. Here is an excellent example of how Chopin confounded his critics with his use of different, sometimes eccentric tonalities.

Mazurkas, Opus 7 followed, demonstrating Ohlsson’s great sensitivity. The pianist has a large repertoire, covering composers from Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Mozart to Alexander Scriabin and contemporary Russians. However, he seems to have a special affinity for Chopin. His breakthrough came in 1970 when he won the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition.

This was followed by the Mazurka in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 30 and then the Grande Valse in A-Flat Major, Opus 42, both played with equal mastery. The scheduled program ended with the Scherzo No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Opus 31, bringing the audience to their feet.

Ohlsson took several bows, then obliged with brief encores, including the Nocturne in F-Sharp Major.

This pianist seems fully in command of some considerable powers, yet relates to the audience in a genial, collegial manner. CAMA, with sponsorship by the Esperia Foundation, provides a true service to our music community with these Masterseries concerts.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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