Finishing touches to fine season

MUSIC COLUMN

Ohlsson recital caps 2001-2002 at Shriver

April 30, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Two music series wrapped up their seasons on Sunday, with the promise of more attractions to come in 2002-2003.

There was good reason for all the cheering during Garrick Ohlsson's recital for the Shriver Hall Concert Series at the Johns Hopkins University. The pianist could not have been much more brilliant technically, much more riveting interpretively. From the first notes of the opening work, Mendelssohn's Variations serieuses, it was clear that it would be a very rewarding night.

Anyone who ever dismissed Mendelssohn as a lightweight would be quickly disabused of that notion by hearing Ohlsson perform this darkly colored, drama-tinged work. He played it in the equivalent of a single breath, one taut and cohesive thought. Phrases were charged with tension, as well as lyricism, to create a striking statement. The score's Bach-like ingenuity emerged with superb clarity in the process.

Clarity was also a hallmark of the pianist's approach to Beethoven's F-sharp major Sonata, which emerged with its wit subtly underlined. The kinetic energy, quirky outbursts and brooding interludes of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 were put into sharp relief by Ohlsson's consummate control of the keyboard. He made the music sound as incendiary as it must have to its first listeners.

Great artists make us forget all about other great artists, at least for the moment. That's how it was when Ohlsson turned to Chopin; it just didn't seem as if anyone could possibly play this music any better.

The sheer refinement of his touch, whether in the glittery bits on the outside of a score or all those unexpected voices inside, commanded respect. So did the unaffected eloquence of his phrasing.

He savored the exquisite taste of melancholy in the A-minor Waltz, Op. 34, No. 2, a quality he tapped again to sublime effect in the slow movement of the B-minor Sonata. Ohlsson was no less impressive in the rest of that sonata, generating enormous, but never overwrought, power and energy. (The sound of a storm burst outside provided a well-timed duet.)

There were two more waltzes for encores. The pianist's crystalline articulation and infectious rhythmic pulse in the E-flat major Waltz, Op. 18, proved particularly irresistible.

This terrific finale to the Shriver Hall series should have had room for a public acknowledgement of its departing managing director, Bill Nerenberg, whose guidance has done so much to keep it fresh, valuable and successful. He's leaving quite a legacy, though. Just take a look at the 2002-2003 lineup:

It includes the sublime pianist Murray Perahia in a specially priced recital and a subscription series that includes recitals by two other exceptional keyboard artists, Arcadi Volodos and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Among other recitalists on the schedule are two of the best string players around these days, violinist Vadim Repin and cellist Peter Wispelway.

Hyunah Yu, the remarkable Peabody-trained soprano, will also be heard in recital. The season's chamber music side will feature the top-drawer Borromeo String Quartet and St. Petersburg Quartet.

There's room, too, for the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin; an all-day symposium devoted to Brahms, featuring musicologists and performers; and a multimedia celebration of cellist Gregor Piatagorsky on the centennial of his birth.

For more information, call 410-516-7164.

Strings have it

Earlier on Sunday, Music in the Great Hall at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church closed its season with a rich program. I made it in time to hear most of Bohuslav Martinu's Madrigals, played with confidence and color by violinist Peter Sirotin and violist Seljuk Kardan, and the piano quartets by Robert Schumann and Herbert Howells.

The Howells quartet contains a hint of lush, French harmonies in the first two movements, a burst of English folk song in the finale. Each instrument gets a chance to shine in the piece, an opportunity seized by Sirotin, Kardan, cellist Thomas Kraines and pianist Virginia Reinecke. It was a cohesive, open-hearted, involving performance.

Things were not as smooth in Robert Schumann's Piano Quartet, which needed tighter coordination, articulation and intonation at various points along the way. But the glorious third movement hit the spot, with Kraines' beautifully molded phrases and singing tone setting the mood.

Next season, Music in the Great Hall will offer performances by the Amadeus Trio, the American Chamber Players, the classical guitar duo of Julian Gray and Ronald Pearl, the winner of the Yale Gordon Peabody Competition and more. For information, call 410-813-4255.

Getting back to Howells, you have another chance to hear his distinctive music this weekend. His Requiem, along with Zoltan Kodaly's Missa Brevis, will be performed by St. David's Singers, led by Randall Mullin, at 7 p.m. Sunday at St. David's Church, 4700 Roland Ave. Tickets are $12, $8 for children. Call 410-467-0476.

Venzago on to Indy

Mario Venzago, buoyant artistic director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Summer MusicFest, has been named music director of the Indianapolis Symphony. He succeeds Raymond Leppard, who is now conductor laureate.

The 72-year-old Indianapolis Symphony has an annual budget of $23 million and an endowment of $110 million, one of the 10 largest in the country (about $40 million more than the BSO's).

Venzago's new job is not expected to interfere with his commitments to the BSO festival.

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