Franz Liszt's work takes great skill to play, and world-renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson is a worthy contender for the challenge. The "Fantasy and Fugue" from the chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam is a somewhat unusual work, rather through-composed though it is written in three movements; one listens to it more for the emotion than the structure. The menacing, funereal chords at the beginning spin out into a calmer passage that is tender and lyrical. Ohlsson's playing is never choppy, with fluid and lyrical arpeggi and swells in the music that make it so thrilling to listen to. Ohlsson also captures all of the moods throughout the "Fantasy and Fugue," such as the delicate beginning of the second movement that is absolutely gorgeous to listen to, and the ethereal lullaby-like section that precedes a darker theme that enters and leads into the third movement. Here, Ohlsson is certainly careful about observing the dotted rhythms and vigorous theme, the bubbling runs, and expressing the vigor. But he does this in a way so that these elements are incorporated into the music; they create a sentimental journey that takes the listener's mind off of technique and musical devices and engages him/her with Liszt's atmosphere. The second piece on the album, Sonata in B minor, is a dark work, with a darkly hesitant beginning. Liszt really uses the low registers to good effect -- they are growling or menacing -- as well as the high registers, which convey tenderness and beauty. Once again, Ohlsson succeeds in transporting the listener through the various characters of the piece, and when he plays the dynamic marking of piano, it is indeed piano. Sometimes this piece begins to sound rather the same, though there are sunny moments such as in Fortissimo and the Andante sostenuto is athletic, vigorous, and energetic, like a rider atop a horse. This is no criticism of Ohlsson's playing; rather, a more contrasting work could have been chosen for the album. Though the ending movement is Allegro energico, with passagesplayed with the whole body and use the entire piano in a most dramatic manner, it ends on a whisper. Liszt certainly has the last say in the listener's musical voyage, and Ohlsson is a worthy tour guide.
AllMusic Review by V. Vasan
|Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam", S. 259|
|Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178|