Never mind the title: There’s been plenty of fire in the Kennedy Center’s “Nordic Cool” series this past month. But it’s been a particularly Scandinavian kind of fire — calm on the surface, explosive underneath — and on Tuesday night at the Terrace Theater the young Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen showed just how searing “cool power” can really be.
The evening was steeped in the classical tradition, with two works by Mozart bookending largely neoclassical works by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and the Dane Carl Nielsen. Mozart’s stately Prelude and Fugue in C, K. 394, opened the concert, and it was quickly apparent that Pohjonen has both impeccable technique and a cleareyed approach to music, unleashing the fugue with stunning clarity and precise dynamic control, if also a certain formality and distance. Cool, yes; clinical, maybe a bit; but powerful, absolutely.
Grieg’s “From Holberg’s Time” Op. 40 followed — a pleasant suite built on 18th-century dance movements, with an agreeable sense of nostalgia but not much else. Far more interesting was Nielsen’s 1917 Chaconne, Op. 32, also steeped in classical traditions but with a much sharper bite than the Grieg. Pohjonen seemed to warm up and become freer as he played, even bringing a welcome touch of madness to the manic, discordant, and fantastically exciting climax.
Mozart’s dark Sonata in A Minor, K. 310, closed the program, and Pohjonen seemed to find a kind of serenity in the melancholy drama that runs through the work. But it was Grieg’s Ballade in G Minor, Op. 24, that formed the real heart of the evening. This is a dark, confessional work from 1876 that seems to swarm with Grieg’s personal demons, and Pohjonen dived into it with complete confidence, a superb performance of a subtle and complex work.
Brookes is a freelance writer.