Garrick Ohlsson

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1

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Garrick Ohlsson is a pianist with sufficient presence to introduce a striking detail and then let it hang for awhile, reassuring the listener that the loose ends will be tied together later on. It's a quality that serves him well in this program of Beethoven sonatas, one from early in Beethoven's career, one from the middle, and one from the end. All three emphasize contrasts of various kinds, reconciled over the course of an individual movement or an entire work. Ohlsson's tempos are moderate, and he tends to begin circumspectly, adding increasingly stronger accents that point to the role of a certain passage in the eventual resolution of the Beethovenian drama. His interpretations are detailed and carefully planned-out, but there are plenty of fireworks in his reading of the lengthy and ambitious early Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7 -- perhaps too many, for some of the early Beethoven humor in the work is lost in his spacious interpretation. In the little Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78, however, he holds the diverse elements of the music in perfect balance, making the mood neither too mysterious nor too light. Everything comes together in the short second movement, with a quality of scampering playfulness that seems perfectly natural. Ohlsson's version of the Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, is also very strong. He does not rush the tempo, and the cyclical reminiscences that strike the listener in this sonata are given their due. The difficult final movement with its fugal textures and extended ultimate moment of triumph, really the moment at which Beethoven's final period began (not that he timed his output like a college football game), comes through with total clarity and a mounting sense of excitement. This disc is strongly recommended for those immersed in Beethoven, and it bodes well for the additional Ohlsson/Beethoven discs to follow.

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