Garrick Ohlsson and North Carolina Symphony Impress Large Audience With Two Works
by Paul D. Williams
November 7, 2009, Raleigh, NC: Upon hearing pianist Constance Keene play the set of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes, Artur Rubinstein reportedly exclaimed that he was “completely flabbergasted by the fantastic sweep, color, tone, and last but not least, the incredible technique.” While his choice of “flabbergasted” may not have been linguistically elegant, he could well have experienced that same emotion if he had heard Garrick Ohlsson on a crisp fall evening in Meymandi Concert Hall. There the world-class pianist joined Music Director Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony in a pair of established audience favorites.
The Bach Suite No. 2 in B minor for Orchestra, S.1067, opened the proceedings. In what must have been a test of endurance, it featured Principal flutist Anne Whaley Laney. The piece is called a suite for orchestra, but in truth it is more like a flute solo with backup by some twenty strings and continuo. With no break for her during all the action, she seemed to thrive and excel despite the demands of the seven movements.
Book-ending the intermission were the two piano works of the evening featuring Ohlsson as the honored guest. Vintage Mozart was obviously on hand as the orchestra waded into the long opening tutti section of his Concerto No. 14 in E-flat for piano and orchestra, K.449. Here and particularly in the Andantino movement the players exhibited a highly polished sound. The program notes referred to the Andantino as “a sublime lyrical effusion” and that it “moves with unassuming dignity and tenderness.” Pianist, director and players collaborated to ensure that these exuberant praises continued to be justified.
The second large piano work was Weber’s Konzertstück for
piano and orchestra in F minor, Op. 79. Although Weber called this
merely a “concert piece,” it is a full-fledged piano concerto
(actually the composer’s third such work). Here Weber has fled
the world of Mozart and Haydn and has introduced a lush romanticism.
It was easy to bask in that quality in any of the four movements, played
without break. Particularly exhilarating was the huge Tempo di Marcia
movement, a sometimes turbulent section that featured soloist and orchestra
at their finest. Perhaps partly because this was their third presentation
of these concertos, soloist Ohlsson and director Llewellyn seemed to
work together in amazing synchronism.
Closing the evening was Schubert’s tuneful Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, D.485. This rather familiar work seems to be the composer’s most played symphony after the famous “Unfinished.” It provided a high note on which to end an evening characterized by excellence of programming and execution, along with obvious audience enthusiasm.