Sunday, May 31, 2009

Garrick Ohlsson plays Brahms

The penultimate concert of the season was one of the best for the Colorado Symphony, with Jeffrey Kahane returning to conduct. The concert opened with a contemporary piece by Pierre Jalbert, In Aeternam. Without a doubt, the best of the "new" works they played this year. The piece is dedicated to the niece of the composer, who was stillborn. Although in three movements, the piece does a nice job of moving through the seven stages of grief. If I have any criticism, it would be that Jalbert is clearly influenced by film composers, which from me is no criticism at all. The first movement seemed to hinge on the interval of a major 7th, and frequently reminded me of Bernard Herrmann. The second movement was very exciting and clearly played the anger of dealing with death. I had to remind myself of this fact, as it sounded a lot like some of Williams' more dissonant action music from the Indiana Jones movies.

Kahane then introduced the Sibelius Symphony #3, explaining that it had never been performed by the orchestra before. Now we know why. It's a very slight piece, and those expecting a rousing chorus of Finlandia will be sadly let down. The piece did have some nice moments though.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the evening was the Second Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms as performed by Garrick Ohlsson. Ohlsson seemed a very jolly sort walking out to the stage, and took control quickly with a powerful performance of the first movement. I'd never seen this piece live before and it's clearly a very challenging piece for the pianist, full of rapidly moving block chords. Ohlsson seemed a little uneven in the first movement. Also the sound of the piano was off; I did not feel the low end like I had in previous concerts.

The second movement (scherzo) was much better, wonderfully performed by all involved. Each movement seemed to get better, with the beautiful third movement showing the other end of Ohlsson's spectrum. A delicate performance by both him and the cello soloist.

The fourth movement (one of the few concerti in four movements) was exciting and played flawlessly. Perhaps the only thing better was the encore, a great performance of the C# Waltz by Chopin. I don't know how he did it, but he made every statement of the theme unique with a different tempo, getting faster each time, yet ending with a beautifully introspective ending.

I look forward to next week's performance of the Mahler 2nd Symphony. A dark piece to end the season with, but it should be interesting!
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