Music Preview: VÍKINGUR ÓLAFSSON (Solo Piano at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on April 19, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


While my heart sank to hear that Murray Perahia had to pull out of his recital at Disney Hall this Sunday, April 21, 2019, nothing prepared me for the fantastic news that pianist Víkingur Ólafsson will replace him with a program of mostly Bach with some Glass (Perahia will return as soon as his recovery is complete). If you want to see a modern-day Glenn Gould-like master at the keys, here’s your chance.

When I saw him at the Hollywood Bowl last year performing Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto, Ólafsson was wearing a suit and his trademark round spectacles; with short, styled, dirty-brown hair, the tall thin Icelander looked more like an English Major student about to give a dissertation, which was apropos for his style of playing — meaning he lacked a kind of Beethovian fire. But once he started to play with a Mozartian flair, he left a huge impression.

With unparalleled fingerwork, he was like buttah, as they say, with sweet and tight pianissimo passages and runs, tenderly hunched over the keys, finishing phrases with a flourish. As a technician, I found him flawless and meticulous, with incredibly long fingers that looked like gregarious dancing spiders as they flowed over the keys. I wrote at the time that the meticulous craftsman seems better-suited for Bach or Philip Glass. Well, he must have heard my call, because exactly two months later he released an all-Bach CD — 35 glorious tracks including transcriptions by Busconi, Rachmaninov, Siloti and Ólafsson himself.

Utilizing the huge and diverse mixture of varied Bach pieces, Ólafsson scurries over the keys in a glittery show of piano virtuosity that will have you in a constant state of appreciation and awe. At the same time, his showy work never feels incongruous to the spirit of Bach.

Ólafsson’s Bach is really inimitable. I truly feel he offers the most noteworthy and far-reaching analysis since Glenn Gould. Somewhat owing to the curiously opulent addition of organ-crossover transcriptions and seldom recorded works, I’ve not heard anyone that sounds quite like him with Bach. It’s a marvelous time for pianists, and we’re lucky to have LA Phil’s pull so they could bring Ólafsson here on such short notice.

BACH: Aria Variata alla maniera Italiana, BWV 989
BACH: Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 850
BACH/MARCELLO: Concerto in D minor, BWV 974
BACH: Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855
BACH/RACHMANINOV Gavotte, from Violin Partita No. 3 in E, BWV 1006
BACH: Invention No. 15 in B minor, BWV 786
BACH: Sinfonia No. 15 in B minor, BWV 801
BACH/SILOTI: Prelude in B minor, BWV 855a
BACH: Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904
Philip GLASS: Opening, from Glassworks
Philip GLASS: Etudes Nos. 9, 2, 13, 3, 5, 6

photo by Harrison Parrott

Víkingur Ólafsson, piano
presented by LA Phil
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Ave.
Sunday April 21, 2019, at 7:30
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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