Conductor: Robert Spano
Scriabin: Le poème de l’extase (The Poem of Ecstasy, Symphony No 4), Op. 54
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 – Garrick Ohlsson
There are some musical works whose performance I must attend, providing they take place within a reasonable radius of my location at the time, and Rachmaninoff’s sumptuous Piano Concerto No 3 definitely holds a prime spot on that list. Moreover, when the performer is the superb pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the venue Carnegie Hall, getting a ticket for it becomes a simple matter of course. The other details of the concert involved The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by its music director, Robert Spano, the New York première of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx and the promising-sounding Poème de l’extase by Scriabin. All nice, but all second fiddle, so to speak, to the majestic piano masterpiece.
In the program’s notes explaining Nyx, which takes its name from the mysterious Greek goddess, Esa-Pekka Salonen promised us a nebulous time. True to form, he had us wander aimlessly in a universe of floating melodic bubbles for 20 minutes, never exactly knowing what was going on but happily going along for the ride. A wide range of sounds making full use of the large orchestra kept on elusively appearing, mixing and fading, which in turn created myriad shades of colors and textures. Not the kind of music that grabs you and never lets you go, but rather a composition that can and will inconspicuously seduce you if you let it.
Another continuous work of 20 minutes is Scriabin’s Poème de l’extase, which moved us toward a romantic mood, even if I found the title slightly misleading. It was good, but not THAT good. Nevertheless, Robert Spano drew a warm response from his musicians, and this all went down very well.
But enough nit-picking. We were there for Rach 3, and boy did we get a glorious performance of it. Garrick Ohlsson may not be the flashy type, but on Saturday night he showed enough virtuosic fervor to make those huge Romantic waves beautifully come alive and totally submerge us. Always in impeccable control even during the most dazzling fireworks displays, the winner of the 1970 Chopin International Competition proved that he knew a thing or two about intricate nuances as well by constantly highlighting some new details. Brilliantly seconded by the orchestra, Garrick Ohlsson magisterially handled the Himalaya of piano concertos without fuss but plenty of heart, earning himself a well-deserved, resounding ovation.
As the audience was finally calming down, he came back for an encore, which was a sight as welcome as unexpected. Because, really, what do you do after Rach 3? After identifying it as “too famous to be announced”, he delivered the most delicate "Clair de lune" from Suite bergamasque by Debussy, masterly keeping the final notes hanging in the air for several breathless seconds. A precious little gift that was treasured all the way home, and beyond.