Review: Evren Ozel Wows with Refined Restraint

In listening to Evren Ozel’s excellent piano recital Wednesday afternoon, two words came to mind over and over: refined restraint. That is how this young artist approached each of the three works he performed at this week’s installment of the Dame Myra Hess Concert at the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

The program itself was restrained with works on the lighter side of the spectrum. This is not music to dazzle. Rather, it allowed Ozel to show off careful, well-honed technique, with insight and confidence.

It started with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in c-sharp minor BWV 873, from book two of the Well-Tempered Klavier. The Prelude in this moody, minor-key has very delicate counterpoint, and Ozel’s refined playing was a perfect fit. He kept it up with the livelier Fugue, which has a more robust aural palette that he dutifully supplied.

The mood established by Bach carried over into the second work, Interlude II by the modern composer Leon Kirchner. This piece opens like a continuation of the Bach, with dense counterpoint, but in modern tonality. As in the Bach, Ozel showed restraint in the Kirchner. Refinement came through in quieter moments that created a lovely contrast.

Youthful pianist Evren Ozel plays with quiet panache. Photo by Dana Mooney.

Of all the works on the program, the opening movement of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, in c-minor, Op. 111, has greatest potential to dazzle. Yet Ozel continued his low-key style from the opening introduction, which he played at a slower-than-usual pace. This was carried over into the main body of the movement, where fire can predominate. Occasional missed notes aside, Ozel’s more subdued performance allowed the drama to come through loud and clear in all the right places. His performance offered quiet panache.

The Beethoven finale is where Ozel’s talent really shone. These variations on a seemingly simple theme go everywhere from ragtime to outer space. Ozel perfectly handled the different moods from boisterous, fast variations to the super quiet passages that stay in higher piano register. The long sections of continuous trills toward the end were played with precision. Kudos to Ozel for offering a fresh perspective on this masterwork. The performance was an absolute wow.

Hosted by the International Music Foundation, the 45-minute Dame Myra Hess concerts, all free, take place every Wednesday at 12:15pm. These in-person concerts at the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, are also broadcast live on WFMT. Next week’s program features Kina Ono on violin and Élider DiPaula on piano, performing a program of Latin American composers Radamés Gnattali, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla, and Manuel Ponce. The performance will be at 55 E. Wacker Dr., Wednesday, October 12, 12:15pm, free.

Louis Harris
Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world.

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