Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1881) [50:34]*
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20 (1831) [8:29]
Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53 Héroïque (1826) [6:33]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Funérailles (Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, S. 173 No. 7) [12:19]
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/James Loughran*
rec. Royal Albert Hall, London, 31 July 1978*; BBC Studios 12 April 1974.
Sound format: LCPM mono
Picture format: 4:3
Subtitles: n/a
Menu languages: English
Booklet languages: E/F/G
Region code: 0
Territory Restrictions: None
ICA CLASSICS ICAD 5013 [77:55]

When I last saw Garrick Ohlsson live in concert in 2007, I was mightily impressed by the delicacy and contrast the ursine pianist brought to his performance of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. This DVD unearths performances given by a much younger Ohlsson some thirty years earlier, when he was less a bear and more a lion of the keyboard, complete with 1970s mane.

The main feature on this DVD is a BBC Proms performance of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto under the baton of that great Scottish Brahmsian, James Loughran, whose famous Halle recordings of the symphonies, last seen on Classics for Pleasure, have sadly been deleted from the catalogue.

Ohlsson, wearing a white coat like the leader of the orchestra and no one else on stage, strides out with Loughran to warm Proms applause. We are quickly underway. The first movement is nicely paced, flowing and big. Indeed “big” is the right word for this performance. Loughran knows what he is doing with this music. He draws a well blended, robust sound from the orchestra, right from the opening horn call. Ohlsson shares his dramatic conception of the concerto, moving from gentle rhapsodic playing to roaring climaxes with the ebb and flow of the musical narrative. The uncredited principal cellist brings grace and charm to the andante, which Ohlsson matches and exceeds, and the finale is smile-coaxingly playful, but never lightweight. The highlight of this performance is the second movement. Ohlsson is at his rhapsodic best here. There are occasional wrong notes and horn wobbles, but they matter little when the performance is as exciting as this one.

The 1974 recital is fabulously 70s, from the font that flashes onto the screen to announce the recital in time to the opening chords of the Scherzo to the wavy beige studio backdrop. Ohlsson’s Chopin is superb. The Scherzo sparks with nervous energy and, under Ohlsson’s fingers, rings more with tragedy than mere melancholy. The Polonaise that follows is big and appealingly playful, like Hans Sachs merrily mending shoes with a large hammer. Funérailles is dark and menacing, seemingly powered by Ohlsson’s relentless left hand. The size of Ohlsson’s mitts is astonishing. If ever hands were built for the piano, his were.

The booklet note by Jeremy Siepmann lionises Ohlsson and says little of the music or the circumstances of its performance.

The mono sound, clear but constricted, prevents a general recommendation when so much of Ohlsson’s fine playing is available on disc in stereo. However Ohlsson’s fans and those who would see the young lion in his pomp need not hesitate.

Tim Perry

For Ohlsson fans and anyone who would see this young lion in his pomp.