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Classical Californians: Garrick Ohlsson

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Dario Acosta

This week’s Classical Californian is San Francisco-based concert pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who has chosen recordings that follow his development as a musician – with a vivid description of the first time he heard the music of Johannes Brahms as a child, his first favorite composer… to his discovery of Wagner’s operas as a teenager, through his love of contemporary music, including a concerto written for him. There are some other operatic gems, as well as a historical recording that shows off Rachmaninoff’s skills as both a pianist and arranger.

He begins with the visceral experience of hearing the music of Brahms for the first time, the opening of the first Symphony:

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Brahms: Symphony No. 1, mvt. 1

As a teen, he decided he should get to know Wagner, and loved the very end of Götterdämmerung, the Immolation scene (at 4:11:10 in this performance)...

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Wagner: Götterdämmerung (final scene at 4:11:10)

There's more Wagner as The Ring Cycle led Garrick Ohlsson to Tristan and Isolde, and its famous opening filled with delayed resolution:

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Wagner: Tristan and Isolde Prelude to Act I

Next, it's a familiar tune in an unfamiliar translation - Jussi Björling singing "Vesti la giubba" in Swedish...

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Leoncavallo: "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci in Swedish (Jussi Björling)

Another operatic standard is next, sung by one of his favorites, soprano Montserrat Caballé with "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma.

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Bellini: "Casta Diva" from Norma (Montserrat Caballé)

Next, another (although much tipsier) soprano aria, from Offenbach's La Périchole, it's "Ah, quel diner" sung by Régine Crespin.

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Offenbach: "Ah, quel diner" from La Périchole (Régine Crispin)

Now it's on to the world of the great pianists of the past, including Rachmaninoff, playing here his transcription of Bach's Partita No. 3, originally for solo violin.

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Bach / Rachmaninoff: Partita No. 3 (Sergei Rachmaninoff)

Ohlsson is (among many other things) a specialist in the works of Chopin - and he finds this performance of a Nocturne by Josef Hofmann miraculous, if not impossible.

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Chopin: Nocturne in B Major, Op. 9 No. 3 (Josef Hofmann)

And as a final selection, a concerto that was written for Garrick Ohlsson by composer Justin Dello Joio, called Oceans Apart.

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Justin Dello Joio: "Oceans Apart" (Garrick Ohlsson, Boston Symphony Orchestra)

Published on 04.03.2024