Pianist Garrick Ohlsson, at the top of the international circuit for more than five decades, made a triumphant return to the Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday evening. Touring nationally for Musica Viva Australia, the American virtuoso was in superb form and looked to be enjoying the moment immensely as he performed for a healthy sized Melbourne audience.
His recital, one of two programs alternating on this national tour (the other gets a Melbourne outing on Tuesday, June 13) opened with the Schubert’s Impromptu in C minor from the D. 899 set. Ohlsson’s Schubert shimmered with transparent textures and some interesting and rather original highlighting of inner lines in places.
The B minor sonata is arguably the greatest work of Franz Liszt. This extraordinary composition – written without a break in its nearly half an hour duration – is a tour de force that demands enormous technical and musical mastery. Ohlsson delivered a performance that displayed both and offered a laser navigation of its complex structure and forms within the larger construction. This was a reading of pathos and noblesse. At once spacious, epic, penetrating, intimate and demonstrating deep insight, one would struggle to hear it played better. This sort of piece is ideally suited to his build: almost two metres tall and with long arms and a hand that reportedly spans an interval of a 12th. Ohlsson drew out a truly orchestral range of colours and a fortissimo that raised the roof without ever becoming brash.
The second half of the program opened with a new work by young Tasmanian composer Tom Misson. Commissioned by MVA for Ohlsson’s current Australian tour, Convocations is an arresting piece that explores the limits of piano range, building pleasing textures and painting in sophisticated colours.
Ohlsson offered a brief but illuminating spoken introduction to the complex personality of Alexander Scriabin. A bracket of pieces that explored his evolving language included three Etudes and the Andante cantabile of Two Poems, Op. 32. The fiendish Piano Sonata No. 5 concluded the recital with technical ease and theatrical flare.
At 75, Ohlsson is in blistering form, with energy and technical facility of a man a fraction of his age. He appeared both relaxed and to be thoroughly enjoying himself during this unforgettable recital. A ticket to his second performance next week is sure to be hot property.
Stewart Kelly reviewed “Garrick Ohlsson”, presented by Musica Viva Australia at the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, on June 3, 2023.