Garrick Ohlsson, winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition in 1970, has signed a contract with Bridge Records that will result in several CDs to be issued in 2006. In addition to three separate discs of Beethoven piano sonatas – each containing a mix of early-, middle-, and late-period works – there is the present CD, which actually was recorded back in 1999 (Bach) and 2001 (Handel).
The timing for the Bach (46:20) should tip off readers that Ohlsson omits repeats in this performance. There's one exception, however: for whatever reason, Ohlsson takes both repeats in the last variation, the so-called Quodlibet. As a result, there's less pressure on him to ornament than there otherwise would be. Nevertheless, he does add his own ornaments from time to time, without really making much of a statement in doing so. He also adds octave doublings in the bass in Variation #29. I found this a little unusual, but not fatally so. His tempos are more or less the expected ones, with some minor surprises – again, none of them fatal. Although this is a pianistic performance, complete with use of the damper pedal, it is not self-consciously virtuosic; in other words, Ohlsson never shows off. If anything, the playing is demure and often very pretty, with contrasts downplayed from one variation to the next. Even the "Black Pearl" variation is lighter than usual. This is a "Goldberg Lite," if you will – more than satisfactory for everyday listening, but not the great philosophical statement that it can be. That's OK, though. It goes without saying that Ohlsson's technique is beyond reproach.
The Handel suite is played in a similar style – too similar really. It would have been good if Ohlsson had contrasted the two works a little more strongly. Other pianists have shown more character here. Still, Ohlsson's performance is an attractive one, and the Handel ends up acting as a rather nice and not overly sweet dessert to the Goldbergs.
Ohlsson plays a fine sounding Mason and Hamlin piano from 1917 in both works. The engineering is complementary to both the piano and to Ohlsson's performances.
After hearing this, I look forward to hearing the Beethoven discs.
Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle