Garrick Ohlsson brings Chopin and Granados in a return performance at Meany Hall

By R.M. Campbell

It was with considerable disappointment that one heard the news the Brazilian pianist Nelson Friere had canceled His Seattle engagement Thursday night at Meany Hall. I well remember his striking combination of temperament and technique, but I had not heard him for sometime. Quickly Meany found a replacement — Garrick Ohlsson.

The American pianist seems like an old friend, so often and for so long he has played in Seattle in recital, in chamber music and in concert with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. He has a long list of awards and honors, including First Prize at the 1966 Busoni Competition in Italy and 1968 Montreal Competition. However, his winning the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, in 1970, catapulted him to international fame. Since then he has toured the world many times, exploring not only the vast reaches of the canon but a good share of far-flung nooks and crannies.

To all that he brings probing intelligence, luminous musicality, transparent textures, crystalline clarity, all situated on the granite foundation of his huge and resourceful technique. He is a man of a infinite color sensibility and wide dynamic range. There is an ebb and flow to his music-making that keeps the head and the ears engaged. And, may I add, he is fresh, even in music like Chopin that he has been playing for more than 40 years. No small feat.

Wednesday’s program was a felicitous mix between Chopin and Granados. The Chopin collection included a nocturne, five etudes, a polonaise and scherzo. There was, predictably, much to admire. The Nocturne in F (Op. 15, No.1) had sweetness and fluency; the Polonaise in F-Sharp MInor (Op. 44), majesty and power and drive; Mazurka in A Minor (Op. 17, No. 4), a plaintive sensibility with remarkable shifts in feeling which Ohlsson expounded with sophistication and sensitivity. The five etudes from the Opus 25 (Nos, 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7) cover a large terrain, in terms both technical and expressive. It was an exciting journey with Ohlsson, at once compelling and confident, fiery and formidable, impassioned and poetic.

The second half was devoted to three sections of Granados’ “Goyescas” (Los requiebros,” “El fandango de candil” and “Quejas o la maja y el ruisenor”) as well as “El pelele,” which was written after the suite but is often included as part of it. Ohlsson was sober and lucid but lacked spontaneity, expressivity and any touch of Spanish flamboyance.

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