West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch – Brahms Festival 4 – with Garrick Ohlsson

Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.83
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Asher Fisch

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 29 August, 2015
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Western Australia

Asher FischPhotograph: Chris GonzWASO’s Brahms cycle concluded with this fourth concert featuring a magisterial reading by Garrick Ohlsson of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto and the best live performance of the Fourth Symphony I’ve had the privilege to hear.

Taking up WASO principal horn David Evans’s eloquent enunciation of the Concerto’s opening melody, Ohlsson sang (instrumentally speaking) and stormed his way through various metamorphoses and contrasting themes and subjects with the same visceral intensity and sensitivity of touch he displayed in the previous night’s performance of the D-minor Concerto.

Throughout, Asher Fisch’s authority rippled through every section of the orchestra – the strings especially – such that a predominantly chamber-like atmosphere was firmly established, despite the scale and dramatic force of the work, which ran through a stormy Allegro appassionato, a glorious Andante in which Rod McGrath’s warm, lyrical cello solo played no small part and a sparkling Allegretto grazioso which served only to emphasise the tenebrous qualities of the following Symphony.

Garrick OhlssonPhotograph: Pier Andrea MorolliHere, Fisch’s ability to see every part in relation to the whole came to the fore, but in the guise of a master restorer of oil paintings who insists on a studiously precise approach which nevertheless leaves a patina of grime on the canvas to render the colours more sombrely unified.

Thus in the Allegro non troppo, Fisch urged the orchestra on through a muted landscape illuminated by occasional flashes of lightning before the Andante moderato revealed a sunlit vista; and here the control exhibited in the quieter paragraphs shared between woodwinds and pizzicato strings was nothing short of miraculous. The Allegro giocoso was just that, though shot through with a strident eloquence tinged with irony that prepared one for the devastating passacaglia of the finale, Allegro energico e passionato, the effects of which were so profound that Fisch felt it necessary to lighten the mood with a jocund encore, Hungarian Dance No.5.

Speaking of encores, mention should be made of Ohlsson’s post-Concerto offering: a superlative account of Chopin’s Waltz in C-sharp minor, Opus 64/2.

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