Bach: Fantasy and Fugue for Organ in G Minor, BWV 542, transcribed for piano by Liszt, S. 463
Liszt: Fantasy and Fugue for Organ on “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” (after Meyerbeer), S. 259, transcribed for piano by Busoni
Liszt: Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S. 173
Liszt: Étude No. 5, “Feux follets”, from Études d’exécution transcendante, S. 139
Liszt: Valse oubliée, S. 215, No 1
Liszt: Nuages gris, S. 199
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No 1 (Der Tanz in der Dorfstencke), S. 514
It is often tough to bring oneself out of a beautiful – if still chilly – spring afternoon and into a dark – and just about as chilly – concert hall, but that’s just what my friend Linden and I did last Sunday afternoon for a somewhat all-Liszt recital by piano virtuoso Garrick Ohlsson. Granted, the sacrifice was not THAT big. After witnessing him impeccably tame Rach 3 earlier this season, I was more than ready to hear him work his way through a few chosen pieces from Liszt’s ground-breaking œuvre, a relatively less spectacular but by no means less daunting challenge.
The first piece, the Fantasy and Fugue for Organ in G Minor, was actually by Bach, but had been transcribed for piano by Liszt. A meeting of sorts of those two prodigious masters was certainly an interesting way to get the concert started, and Garrick Ohlsson’s contribution was a warm and detailed rendition of it.
We stayed in the realm of large-scale adventures with Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue for Organ on “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”, a sprawling work that took us on a grand journey and left us completely exhausted by the time we all reached the final note, about half an hour later. Without breaking a single sweat and remaining in constant control, Garrick Ohlsson coolly managed every turn of the treacherous minefield, whether they were delicately meditative moments or all-out resounding outbursts.
The second part of the program was dedicated to shorter, more intimate pieces. It started with “Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude”, a remarkably simple reflection on the search for God and peace of mind. Simple does not mean simplistic though, and Ohlsson’s pared-down take on it was nevertheless deeply affecting.
“Feux follets”, on the other hand, was a short, exuberant and already virtuosic explosion of joy and insouciance, totally fitting to the 15-year-old Liszt who wrote it.
“Valse oubliée” was also a miniature piece. Delightfully graceful, it was composed towards the end of Liszt’s life, as was “Nuages gris”, the somber confession of an emotionally drained man.
Things perked up, however, for the devilishly entertaining Mephisto Waltz No 1. Constantly brilliant and engaging, it was bracingly performed by a Garrick Ohlsson that had gotten right into Liszt’s most congenial groove.
The quick encore was a piece for piano without a name by Liszt, a small but powerful add-on to a concert overflowing with priceless musical treasures.