Music

Víkingur Ólafsson, Bergen Philharmonic/ Gardner review – immense, unshowy charm | Víkingur Ólafsson

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Feeling envy for a distant Nordic concert hall that can welcome an audience of 200 – less than a seventh of its capacity – is a sign of glum times. Yet it’s not hard to find an artistic upside: the chance to watch superstar pianist Víkingur Ólafsson play live as soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner (who takes over as chief conductor of the London Philharmonic later this year). The wittily named Wintermezzo festival, for which Ólafsson is artist in residence, hasn’t escaped the complications of quarantine, but this three-week programme offers an appealing mix of live and archive concerts, freely available online. It’s a fine chance to hear and see this world-class orchestra.

The Icelandic pianist shot to fame with recordings of Philip Glass and Bach, often providing his own arrangements. Matching muscularity with sensitivity, he is intrigued by the connections rather than the boundaries between musical styles, as serious about the overshadowed glories of Rameau as about the pétillant pleasures of his fellow countryman Daniel Bjarnason, whose piano concerto Ólafsson plays in one of Wintermezzo’s recorded concerts. The author Karl Ove Knausgaard chose the pianist as one of his cultural picks in On my radar in these pages last month. His description of Ólafsson’s playing – in this case, of Glass – nails it: “precise, clear… mathematical but also very soulful”. There’s also, evident in every note, an immense, unshowy charm.

In this livestreamed concert, constructed around the keys of C minor and F minor, Ólafsson was soloist in Bach’s Concerto No 5, in his own arrangement of the beautiful Adagio from Bach’s Violin Sonata No 5, and in Mozart’s grandest of piano concertos, No 24, K491. Written just before The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, this magnificent work makes huge demands on the woodwind. The Bergen players, in all sections, sparkled.

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