"Alexander Scriabin: The Ten Piano Sonatas, Fantasy Op. 28" by Garrick Ohlsson on iTunes

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Customer Reviews

Purposeful performances

DCD Records,

Garrick Ohlsson is no stranger to the music of Alexander Scriabin -- and in his hands, Scriabin's music becomes a little less strange.

Ohlsson's recorded a cycle of Scriabin's Poèmes, Études, various other solo piano works and his piano concerto. He has both the technical chops and the deep understanding of Scriabin's music to make a significant artistic statement. And he does just that with his traversal of Scriabin's 10 piano sonatas.

The works outline the trajectory of the composer's development and his increasing mysticism and/or deteriorating mental state (depending on whom you ask).

Scriabin's early sonatas of the 1890s show inspiration of Chopin and Liszt. His final sonatas, written in 1912-1913 move beyond tonality into Scriabin's mystical realm of sound and color.

Those final three sonatas can be wild, unhinged rides of technical brilliance, but Ohlsson keeps the craziness in check. Instead, his performances show the method behind Scriabin's "madness." These pieces have their own internal logic. Ohlsson uses it to bring out the inherent beauty and what I can only describe as the rightness of these works.

The early sonatas are also masterfully played. While Ohlsson's performances acknowledge the debts these works owe to Chopin and Liszt, they also keep Scriabin's voice at the forefront.

Ohlsson also doesn't get bogged down in the technical details (read: challenges) of the middle sonatas. Yes, there's a lot going on. But there's an underlying purpose to it all, and Ohlsson never loses sight of it.

The release also includes the 1900 Fantasy, Op. 28, a sonata-allegro form piece that falls into Scriabin's middle period. As the liner notes drily state, "despite pages that are almost impossible to execute, the work is intoxicating for pianists and audiences alike." Ohlsson makes the almost impossible possible and delivers a thrilling performance to boot.

About Garrick Ohlsson

An imposing physical presence at six feet four inches tall, with a reach of a 12th, Garrick Ohlsson is a pianist with a flawless technique, a strong grasp of form, and a clean, non-romanticized style of performing. He began piano studies when he was eight years old, attending the Westchester Conservatory of Music. After he saw Rubinstein in concert, he told interviewer Michael Steinberg, his choice of career was set. "I was blasted into orbit. And that's when I said in my mind...when other little boys say, 'I want to be a fireman,' that's what I want to do." He entered the preparatory course of the Juilliard School when he was 13, where he studied with Sascha Gorodnitzki; remaining at Juilliard for his bachelor's degree in music (earned in 1971), he studied with Rosina Lhévinne. Private studies with Olga Barabini, Irma Wolpe, and Claudio Arrau rounded out Ohlsson's education.

In 1966 he won the Busoni Competition in Italy, and in 1968, the Montreal Piano Competition, but it was his 1970 victory in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw that launched his career. He was the first American winner, and his victory gained some of the same kind of attention as had Van Cliburn's Tchaikovsky Competition triumph a little over a decade earlier. A Warsaw critic called Ohlsson a "bear-butterfly" of a pianist, and the young pianist had a distinctive image to go with his credentials.

Ohlsson has maintained a strong association with the music of Chopin, and has played the Polish master's complete piano works several times in recital and on recordings. His Chopin interpretations favor intense emotionalism over a languid, swooning salon style. Ohlsson is by no means exclusively a player of Chopin; however, his repertory extends from Haydn to 20th century masters and includes more than 80 works for piano and orchestra. He tours and appears as a guest soloist with orchestras around the world and has made over a dozen tours to Poland alone, where he continues to be particularly esteemed for his Chopin playing. He is also an avid chamber performer and has collaborated with the Cleveland, Tokyo and Tákacs quartets. With violinist Jorja Fleezanis and cellist Michael Grebanier he founded the FOG Trio, based in San Francisco. During the 2002-2003 season, Ohlsson appeared as part of the Lincoln Center Great Performers series in New York, performing works by Busoni. A pianist completely consumed with musical life, Ohlsson has, when asked by an interviewer, been unable to remember what kind of car he drives.

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