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Ewa Podles & Garrick Ohlsson - recitals 2008 & 2009

Chopin, Rachmaninov,Tchaikovsky, Szymanowski and Musorgskypodohl
Karlowicz, Musorgsky, Chopin & Haydn

Chopin: A girl’s desire; The ring; The warrior; Lithuanian song; Handsome lad
Rachmaninov: Christ is risen! How fleeting is love’s delight; She is as beautiful as noon
Tchaikovsky: Was I not a little blade of grass; No, only one who knows longing; Zemfira’s song
Szymanowski: Masques
Musorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death

Eva Podles - contralto
Garrick Ohlsson – piano

Wigmore Hall, 23 January 2008

Big operatic voices don’t always fit comfortably into the Wigmore Hall, they require some fining down to match the acoustics of a smaller space than they are accustomed to filling.  The famous contralto Eva Podles gave a recital last night which was one of those rare and very special occasions when a singer opened the lid of her soul and poured forth a stream of uninhibited emotion.   Uninhibited, but by no means uncontrolled, and with an unusual level of communication between performers - the distinguished pianist Garrick Ohlsson played the entire concert from memory and his eyes seldom left the singer.

Their programme was a substantial one and began, appropriately, with Chopin.  A couple of relatively simple love songs were set off by the martial beat of The Warrior with his steed, and then the intense despair of the Lithuanian Song

Next Rachmaninov: Khristos Voskres is justly a favourite of the baritone repertoire, but Podles can bring a colouring to her voice that is very comparable to a baritone, and she literally hurled out her final bitter condemnation of dishonoured mankind. 

A pause, and a shift to mellower but by no means less intense feelings, with familiar romantic songs by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, the first half ending with the comparative cheerfulness of Zemfira’s lilting song.

After the interval, Garrick Ohlsson took over the platform, weaving a complex fantasy of sound in a virtuoso performance of Szymanowski’s Masques.

Finally Musorgsky’s great Songs and Dances of Death.  There is nothing whatsoever about Ewa Podles’ appearance that suggests an evil spirit, yet she conjured up before our eyes a veritable fiend that coaxed with a mock lullaby, serenaded beneath a window, embraced and danced with a drunken peasant, vanquished a complete army, and above all rejoiced in a triumph of demonic power.

A performance of rare stature, justly rewarded with a tumultuous reception.

Serena Fenwick2009

Karlowicz 9 Songs
Musorgsky Detskaya (The Nursery)
Chopin Impromptu in F sharp Op. 36; Fantaisie Op. 49 (so
Haydn Cantata: Arianna a Naxos

Ewa Podles contralto & Garrick Ohlsson piano

Wigmore Hall, 20 December 2009

Compared with the outstanding recital reviewed above, which is available on Wigmore Live CD0027, the reappearance of these two artists on 20 December 2009 was disappointing.

Mieczyslaw Karlowicz's late-romantic songs seem unlikely to set the world alight, and Podles's account of Musorgsky's The Nursery also failed to gel, her voice being unable to represent a child's convincingly (c.f. Simon Woolf's recording of the little boy with his Nanny!).

After the interval, Garrick Ohlsson's solo opportunity (c.p. Victoria Mullova, who was less generous to her partner Ottavio Dantone) was a great relief.

He played with commanding authority, maintaining the feeling that this programme was planned for much larger auditoria, but his full tone never hardened, his pedalling was immaculate and his accounts of both these major pieces of Chopin were satisfying, even if not as tonally alluring as the Hyperion recordings on his chosen "Mason and Hamlin CC 28051 rebuilt in 1994". * [PGW]

Their closing item was Haydn's Cantata "Ariana a Naxos". It is a big dramatic piece, of which Haydn planned but never got around to making an orchestral version. Podles and Ohlsson gave it the full treatment. It certainly showed the incredible span of Podles voice and the range of colouring and volume she has at her command.

It was greeted by a huge ovation from her many admirers, yet we must admit to reservations; it seemed overblown after the bare-bones intensity of a performance
in September at Kings Place, when Sigridur Osk Kristjansdottir had been partnered by Gary Cooper on fortepiano.*

Serena Fenwick & Peter Grahame Woolf

* It occurred to me that, with two major piano manufacturers' showrooms within a stone's throw of Wigmore Hall, arrangements might usefully be considered for suitable pianos (and a good fortepiano) to be made avaiable for recitals there?

A controversial singer; see also Fanfare review + videos and as Azucena in Il Trovatore [PGW]