On a cold and sunless Sunday February afternoon in New York, pianist Garrick Ohlsson offered warm solace in Carnegie Hall where one could, like cozying up to a comfortably appointed fireplace, dwell without hurry on the nuances of masterpieces. In this beautifully proportioned program, the classical first half set up Mr. Ohlsson’s greatest strengths in the impressionist and romantic works of the second.
After intermission, in three pieces of Charles Griffes, whose music this artist champions, The Fountain of Acqua Paolo (1916) established this musician’s epicurean nature with lush, plush accompaniments that supported deeply felt melodies, which he ever evolved in shape. This afternoon‘s Scherzo of 1913 was a richer, more commanding version than on the definitive recording of Griffes’ complete piano music released by Mr. Ohlsson nearly a year ago. Live, his scintillating scales thrilled, like the discovery of one’s youthful sexuality. Earning the respect of this difficult matinée audience, The White Peacock (1915,) though never lascivious, ravished the listeners to silence, and reduced this one to tears of pleasure, right to its end’s time-stopping ambiguous tri-tone resolution.
Plunging into Chopin’s 3rd Sonata, no matter how he clarified turbulent textures as they progressed, what showed the pianist at his freest was his plasticity of phrasing in the lyric music that defines this piece; phrasing cloaked in fine furs, or better, the arms and warm breath of one’s beloved. In the Largo he was at his most noble, playing with a wondrous beauty beyond this world. In the Finale the barely disguised desperate hopeless qualities of this movement were conveyed with an abandon only the most assured can risk. Two Chopin Waltzes, in E-flat major, Op. 18, and C sharp minor Op. 64 #2 were graciously offered as well crafted, and, at times, most tender appreciations.
Beginning the program, if Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 seemed the smallest bit a warm up, admirable was his limpidity and vivid textures in this work’s last movement. If overall this didn’t impress as so intellectually rigorous from traditions we have been expected to respect, Mr. Ohlssohn’s Wanderer Fantasy by Schubert was as brilliant and virtuosic, as musical and effective, even compact, as one could wish, without being pressed, distorted or harsh.
At intermission, overheard by a well-dressed woman of a certain age, “I wish I could take him into my hot tub.” Exactly.