Ohlsson performs predictably, Graf merely loudly

October 04, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Nearly everyone has had this experience. You're listening to a man of unquestionable taste and intelligence talk about something important to both of you. He says exactly the things you believe in, he speaks eloquently, and his expressions of emotion are tailored perfectly to both the subject and occasion. There's only one problem: You don't believe a word he's saying.

That's how I reacted in Meyerhoff Hall last night to pianist Garrick Ohlsson's performance of Rachmaninov's Concerto No. 3 in D Minor with the Baltimore Symphony and guest conductor Hans Graf. Ohlsson's an old hand with this piece. It was the concerto he played in 1966 when he took first prize in the the Busoni Competition (he beat Richard Goode in the Schumann Concerto), he performed it that same year in the Juilliard School's Concerto Competition (he lost to another student, Horacio Gutierrez, in a performance of the same piece) and it has rarely been absent from his repertory.

Ohlsson's familiarity with and mastery of the piece were obvious. The opening had the appropriate lyrical simplicity, the first movement cadenza (the pianist played the short one) was dashing, interesting inner voices were highlighted (though never vulgarly) in the slow movement, and the final movement, including the tremendous peroration, could not have been more sonorous or secure.

But for me, Ohlsson's performance was like one of those Triptiks from AAA, rather than the trip itself. Everything seemed predictable: There were no surprises and none of the feeling (and the emotion) of being there. It sounded like a plan, rather than a performance.

Ohlsson received an adequate, if occasionally somewhat coarse sounding, accompaniment from Graf and the orchestra.

Graf's performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, which concluded the concert, did surprise me -- because I have heard good things about this Austrian conductor from people I respect.

Like most conductors, Graf often signals the orchestra for soft playing. But to judge from the results, he is not much interested in sound below the level of mezzo-forte -- nor, for that matter, in anything refined or beautiful. This was as loud and vulgar a performance of the Dvorak D Minor as any I have heard. It was hard to believe that this was the same orchestra that had played so beautifully for Gunther Herbig only last week.

Pub Date: 10/04/97

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