Conductor: Susanna Malkki
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major (Emperor) - Garrick Ohlsson
After the delightful tease that was the preview concert of the Mostly Mozart Festival, my official attendance of it finally started on Wednesday night with... Beethoven, because... why not? He was a bona fide member of the Viennese gang, after all. Not to mention that under no circumstances would I miss an opportunity to hear his monumental Emperor concerto, especially if Garrick Ohlsson is the man in charge of the keyboard. Even if I was not as blunt about it as the woman seating next to me, a spectacular, if unfortunate, vision of cheap plastic surgery, gaudy make-up and not quite age-appropriate baby doll dress, who matter-of-factly stated to her companion that "the good stuff is coming later", I certainly did not expect the mysterious Schubert/Berio's Rendering to surpass the unsurpassing. So after enjoying the recordings of chirping birds all over the Avery Fisher Hall lobby, a lovely testimony of this year's focus on the pleasures of bird singing, I went into the concert hall determined to find out about the first part of program while silently pining for the second half.
The history of Rendering started when, in 1828, Schubert had the misfortune of dying after composing just a few sketches of what was supposed to become his Symphony in D Major. Fast forward roughly one and a half century later, when avant-garde Italian composer Luciano Berio decided to use those fragments while writing a new orchestral work, dutifully filling in the gaps between Schubert's last, but definitely not least, inspired ideas. And the result is... a bit out of the ordinary, with Schubert's splendidly expressive sketches connected by gently atmospheric episodes that seem to float in mid air while waiting for the next Viennese excerpt. Petite and assertive Finnish maestra Susanna Malkki did not let the unusual arrangement throw her off though, and she led the Mostly Mozart Orchestra in a vivid performance of this constantly surprising piece.
As predicted, the pièce de résistance of the concert belonged Garrick Ohlsson and his brilliant handling of Beethoven's mighty Emperor concerto. Both robust and sensitive, his interpretation unapologically evoked the unstoppable triumph of life that found its way on the score just as Napoleon's army was mercilessly marching on Beethoven's Vienna. The stark military style of this heroic march, however, did not overshadow the stunning lyricism of the Adagio un poco moto, a graceful meditation emerging like a tranquil oasis amidst all the on-going tumult, before the irresistible theme starts again, more powerful than ever. Solidly backed up by the orchestra obviously enjoying themself, Garrick Ohlsson beautifully nailed down yet another impressive feat.
After Beethoven's passionate emotions, Chopin's "Grande valse brillante" in E-flat Major concluded this rather short concert with just the right combination of intricate harmonies and light-hearted fun. Mozart was not missed.