Mozart, the pianist Víkingur Ólafsson who died on stage at Zankel Hall on Tuesday night, was a “late bloomer”. The audience laughs at the thought of one of history’s great prodigies, dead at the age of 35, taking a long time to search for his gift.
It was the rare occasion that I heard laughter in a performance. Most musicians seem a bit lost when you give them the microphone. Ólafsson grabs it near the base and maneuvers it confidently, like a comic book stand-alone: wry and self-deprecating.
At 38, he’s rarely seen in New York and has never appeared in any Carnegie Hall space. It’s a recording artist that many here already know him, an identity he adopted on Tuesday, playing without change – and, apart from intermittent, non-stop, as if you’re listening to the CD-program of his most recent album, “Mozart and His Contemporaries.”
His belated bloomer commentary is a joke, but only partially – fitting for a concert focused on Mozart’s artistic development in the 1780s, his final decade. Ólafsson’s aim was both to bring his master down to earth – intermingling him with pieces from the same time, in a similar style, by Haydn, CPE Bach, Domenico Cimarosa and Baldassare Galuppi – and raising him back up again. back to heaven, bathing the audience only shyly before 90 painful minutes of beauty.
Yes, there are some, but not too many. Ólafsson’s enemy here is the traditional piano solo, defined by vivid contrasts – of the period, of the mood. His touch is sharp and beautiful, his attacks are barely muted when warranted, and hardly all of this music is slow or mellow. Despite this, “Mozart and Contemporaries” still emerges as an unbroken, expansive, hypnotic, almost dreamy, introspective and contemplative sonic ribbon in both the major and minor keys, in both andante and allegro.
For the listener – especially for the live version, its peaks and valleys are smoother than those of the recording – the feeling finally approaches that of an insect encased in amber. : surrounded by beauty, even trapped by it. It’s hard to get sublimation.
That’s not to say it’s not sublime – in Bach rondo’s essayist outbursts or in the longing in the cold fields in Mozart’s little Fantasia in D (K. 397); the flair of the composer K. 494 Rondo or the dash of another composer, K. 485; a warning rendition of Haydn’s Little Sonata B; intimate movements from Galuppi and Cimarosa; and clear, sharp interpretation of Mozart’s “Sonata” in C (K. 545).
Ólafsson’s lucidity is ideal for Mozart’s K. 574 Gigue’s less than two-minute high spirits – but he also delivers its delicate, world-spanning harmonies, a sense of belonging. over a great distance. (He said after a pause that conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen told him this was a “cosmic” gift.)
The second half was dominated by three extended adagios, starting with Ólafsson’s arrangement of slow motion from the String Quartet in G minor (K. 516). A movement from the Sonata in Galuppi’s minor voice (evoking, like so many Scarlatti, the sound of a Spanish fiddle) leads to the intensity of Mozart’s Sonata in the same key (K. 457) – the haunting of its finale, the snow- the global tenderness of its Adagio. Then there is the brooding, singing of Adagio in minor B (K. 540), and Liszt’s pristine ivory transliteration for “Ave Verum Corpus”.
“It’s very hard to play something after ‘Ave Verum,’” Ólafsson said, softening the applause as he sat down on the piano bench. And then, with perfect timing: “But not impossible.”
He did slow motion from JS Bach’s 4th Organ Sonata, the song is incomplete and wonderful.
Performing on Tuesdays at Zankel Hall, Manhattan.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/arts/music/vikingur-olafsson-carnegie-hall.html Review: A Pianist Discovering Mozart the Late Bloomer