Sunday, August 12, 2012

Garrick Ohlsson animates Beethoven's "Emperor" at the Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere, Wednesday Evening, August 8, 2012

NEW YORK--Bleacher seats were filled to capacity around the perimeter of the stage adding to the electric atmosphere of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall.  Esteemed Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki, music director of Ensemble intercontemporain, led the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in a spirited performance of the Schubert/Berio Rendering (1989), a work created from the remnants of Franz Schubert's incomplete Symphony in D major by modern Italian composer Luciano Berio and Beethoven's Piano Concert No. 5 in E-flat-major ("Emperor") (1820), with the towering soloist Garrick Ohlsson at the Steinway.

Schubert left but fragments of thematic ideas for his Symphony in D major at the time of his death in Vienna in 1828 at just 31 years old. The projected symphony had advanced only to the stage of fragments in a piano score, giving subsequent musical scholars little to work with in terms of reconstructing it into a playable composition. Luciano Berio, a leading figure at the close of the last century, came up with the idea of incorporating Schubert's ideas, into a new symphony of his own creation. A "rendering", if you will. The results, as revealed through Malkki's deft handling of the material revealed both the splendid humanity  of Schubert's musical ideas, amplified by the expanses of time and the avant garde musings of Berio.

Similarly, Garrick Ohlsson chose a more expansive reading of Beethoven's heroic Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor"). From the first bars of the opening theme, Ohlsson allowed the lyricism of Beethoven's lofty themes to ring forth. The pathos he elicited from the beginning phrase of the Adagio un poco moto was spine chilling. The sympatico evidenced in the exchange between Ohlsson's piano and the French horn solois
Garrick Ohlsson at the Steinway

Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki leads the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
was similarly arresting. His performance of Beethoven's cadenzas in the final movement, Rondo: Allegro man non troppo, was dazzling. His steely fingers dispensed the composer's kalaidoscopic of musical  ideas, like so many star bursts, yet each note rang with distinctive clarity. Ohlsson's superior technique maintained the mounting tension into the majestic conclusion. Beethoven may have reneged on his original intention of dedicating his symphony to the Emperor Napoleon, but the sound of prancing horses and conquering troops in full military regalia could be heard and felt throughout.