Sparks fly at pianist Garrick Ohlsson's recital at Folly

Garrick Ohlsson
Kansas City Star

By Timothy McDonald

Put the right pianist and the right repertory together and sparks can fly. That’s just what happened Saturday night when Garrick Ohlsson played at the Folly Theater, presented by the Friends of Chamber Music.

Ohlsson attained legendary status in 1970, when he became the first and only American to earn the Gold Medal in the Warsaw Chopin Competition. Since then, he’s traveled the world performing solo, chamber and orchestral concerts around the world.

Unlike some other famous pianists, Ohlsson doesn’t sway, sigh, move his lips or show intense expressions on his face. But oh, what a sound he can draw from the instrument.

Ohlsson devoted the first half of the program to the music of Chopin, choosing a variety of works that contrasted sensuous melody with piano pyrotechnics.

He opened with the Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1.

At the outset he seemed the master of understatement, playing in a gentle, simple and elegant manner. That changed soon. The music became fast and furious, yet Ohlsson responded with great rhythmic flexibility.

A set of five Études from Op. 25 followed. Those in A-flat Major and F Minor were striking for the shimmering tone and sheer beauty the pianist evoked. The E Minor and C-sharp minor works displayed extraordinary expression and beautiful voicing.

An outstanding reading of the Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor showed that Ohlsson had plenty of power, and the ability to discern just when to unleash it.

Ohlsson performed music from “Goyescas” by Spanish composer Enrique Granados. These engaging pieces are not heard enough on recital programs.

The pianist captured a marvelous series of moods while consistently infusing the music with an underlying sense of dance.

The works were filled with technical challenges such as rapid passages and hand crossings. Nevertheless, this listener was more aware of the melodic and harmonic beauty of the pieces and their Spanish flavor.

To cap off a superb evening, the performer played two encores: Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor and an exquisite reading of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”