Variations on an Original Theme, Op.21/1
Variations on a Hungarian Song, Op.21/2
Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op.35 – Book I
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 27 October, 2018
Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y, New York City
This recital launched Garrick Ohlsson’s traversal of the complete solo piano works of Brahms, four concerts spread over this and the 2019-20 season.
He demonstrated complete technical mastery as well as a deep understanding of this great music. In Opus 76 Ohlsson gave each piece its identity, such as the darkness of the opening F-sharp minor Capriccio, contrasting it with the prancing B-minor example, and even more so with the dreamy atmosphere of the A-flat Intermezzo.
In the first of the Opus 21 pair, a foursquare Original Theme is given eleven Variations, the first two mixing arpeggios and chords, the third offering a bit of syncopation, there is an almost Baroque feel to the fifth’s canon, the next two are delicate, and the eighth is propulsive, all leading to the trill-laden final section, the longest in the set. With only a momentary pause Ohlsson plunged into the Variations on a Hungarian Song, a much less weighty subject, yet one offering many technical challenges, all brilliantly met, Ohlsson exploiting metric instability to give a rustic, off-balance impression. The spectacular coda brought a rollicking conclusion.
Following the interval, Ohlsson was at his most introspective in the Ballades, reliving the horror of the dialogue between mother and son based on the Scottish poem, Edward, with the more consoling tone of the ensuing D-major companion. In the final two the pounding opening chords of the B-minor were given full power and the B-major had its airy and blissful moments. In Book One of the Paganini Variations (on the Theme) Ohlsson was nothing short of devilish as he tackled the fiendish writing. There were two encores, both by Chopin and both in C-sharp minor – the Opus 45 Prelude and the Fourth Etude of Opus 10.