Schumann and Brahms in Good Hands
Listening to Lars Vogt, the superb German pianist, play the Schumann Piano Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) last evening I could not help but think what a deep, deep reservoir of fabulous pianists there are in the classical music world today.
Vogt does not really have much name recognition in the US and what he does have comes mostly from his association with the violinist Christian Tetzlaff (who soon will be touring the US with the SFS).
Yet, I can’t remember a more satisfying performance of the Schumann Concerto than the one Vogt gave in this his debut appearance with the SFS last evening at Davies Hall; this was not a pianist in love with his own playing but one in love with the music.
Indeed, Vogt’s immersion in the music was so total, so complete, and his obvious enjoyment and joy in playing it so profound that the excellent SFS orchestra players seemed inexorably drawn to follow his lead rather than that of the conductor.
Vogt clearly is someone the artistic programmers at SFS need to keep on their radar screen.
But there is such an ‘abbondanza’ of great players out there at the moment that it’s tough to make choices. That’s good for the orchestras, not so good for the pianists.
I first heard Vogt with the terrific Tetzlaff Trio some years ago at a concert promoted by San Francisco Performances (the Trio is coming again to Herbst April 27th).
Tetzlaff has become an extremely important figure in musical circles in Germany. There’s a group of German musicians who work with him in various combinations--like Vogt and Tetzlaff’s sister Tanya, the cellist in the Tetzlaff Trio—and they are doing a tremendous job of making the German presence felt in classical music circles.
I want to hear what German musicians today have to say about the music of their genius countrymen Brahms, Beethoven, Bach and the rest.
More evidence of the deep reservoir of terrific pianists at the current moment--as well as the lively classical music scene in San Francisco--came last Thursday at the Herbst Theatre when the American pianist Garrick Ohlsson gave a recital of Brahms’ piano music, the first of four programs planned over two years to cover the composer’s complete solo piano works.
Ohlsson is another one who has had to work long and hard to gain the recognition he so richly deserves.
And even now Ohlsson is virtually unknown in Continental Europe.
The San Francisco resident is a large man with a light touch at the piano who seems almost reticent about his prodigious talent.
He got off to a slow start on Thursday; the entire first half consisted of alterations between Brahms Intermezzos and Capriccios which could have benefited from more variety and poetry though the playing was always impeccable.
Things picked up though after the intermission. The highlight of the evening came at the very end—Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 35 (Book 1). This is a fiendishly difficult and exciting work that Ohlsson negotiated with clarity and élan.
Before the Variations, Ohlsson played the Four Ballades, intense short pieces that reek with darkness and foreboding.
Brahms was in a troubled mood when he wrote the ballades given that his good friend and benefactor Robert Schumann had just attempted suicide and was committed to an asylum. Ohlsson’s playing was both moving and melancholic.
Thumbing through the program, I noticed an ad inserted by Ohlsson’s promoters:
“Don’t miss Garrick Ohlsson’s second program of Brahms! Thursday, March 28 @ 7:30, Herbst Theatre”.
That’s advice I for one intend to follow!