"...Crystalline playing...consummate musician..."
We find ourselves in October, which seems like a perfect time to listen to pianist Caroline Oltmanns’ new album appropriately titled Ghosts. Oltmanns (an International Steinway Artist) is fast becoming a star in the piano world, which is heavily evident in her refined, crystalline playing and charismatic persona. Ghosts, her sixth solo album on the Filia Mundi label, is comprised of particularly misty works by Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, and James Wilding...
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"...impressive focus throughout the performance...playing with delicacy and elegance..."
Last Saturday’s Youngstown Symphony season opener at Powers Auditorium under the direction of Music Director Randall Craig Fleischer featured a delightful rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in c with Caroline Oltmanns as soloist. She maintained an impressive focus throughout the performance, playing with delicacy and elegance.
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“As concept albums go, Ghosts is fun to get inside of.”
“Wilding’s music… maintain[s] a general ethos of spookiness and the supernatural through their sparse, often unmetered textures and their placid, ethereal qualities. “Sphinxes” appears in the middle of Carnaval, in place of Schumann’s movement of the same name that is traditionally omitted from performance, while Wilding’s other pieces connect the Romantic works as musical bridges.”
“Oltmanns’ playing is unencumbered…with uninhibited lyricism…understated power…”
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Water seems to be the connective tissue that links the works in Caroline Oltmanns’ attractive piano album Venezia e Napoli. Claude Debussy’s Images I paints the composer’s impressions of reflections in water, and Franz Liszt’s work from Années de Pèlerinage — Italie, which gives the album its title, begins with a “Gondoliera” or barcarolle. Haydn’s E-flat Sonata (Hob. XVI:49) and Beethoven’s Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33 may not add to that metaphor except in their exceptionally fluid execution by the German-born pianist, who is professor at the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University.
Oltmanns, who recorded the album in Hamburg on a German Steinway, renders Debussy’s watercolors and textures with evocative brushstrokes, captures the spirit of a baroque sarabande in the “Hommage à Rameau,” and spins “Mouvement” out with a dizzying clarity. Her playing of Liszt’s memoirs — each movement based on a song with connections to Venice or Naples — is stylish and well-controlled. The Haydn is a model of lucidity, and Oltmanns makes a complete little picture out of each of Beethoven’s witty “trifles.”
This is a fun album of contrasting pieces that share a certain metaphysical connection. Oltmanns manages to connect with the listener via a recording as successfully as she does in her live performances. The liner notes are crisply written and the photos are lovely. — Daniel Hathaway
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The pianist herself refers to this disc as ‘a water album with lots of old world charm’. It is beautifully recorded, a facet that really illuminates Oltmanns’ subtleties – in the Debussy in particular. The Haydn is interesting in its deliberately gruff first movement and in the way the expressivity of the slow movement foreshadows Beethoven, Oltmanns’s low-pedal approach paying fine dividends. If there are finer Venices of Venezia e Napoli (try Lazar Berman), Naples is much better, with terrific trills and a nice light touch. Actually, the finest performance is of the Beethoven Bagatelles, the A major and C major being the clear highlights.
…Oltmanns depicted the genius and quirky miniatures (of Schumann’s Carnaval) with thoughtful depth, gave thorough insights, and did not leave out the often mis-understood Sphinxes. She was able to fit fluidly into the overall cycle an extra commissioned piece of composer James Wilding: a work resembling a wind chime with its sound flurries, a work of probing sounds…
radio interview on Wclv cleveland
VENEZIA E NAPOLI was recorded in Frankfurt, Germany in collaboration with renowned recording engineer Udo Wüstendörfer. The performance on a German Steinway concert grand piano was captured in a carefully selected acoustic environment. The rich graphic design uses award winning photography, and makes this album and accompanying booklet a feast for the senses. Read more here
Host of "Living the Classical Life"
Hello Caroline! I have finally had a chance to listen to your new CD--incredible!! Majestic, towering, regal readings full of gradations of light and senses. Congratulations! The recorded sound is also outstanding and the instrument is as well.
CD-Titel geben manchmal Rätsel auf. Eigentlich sollten sie ein Programm griffig zusammenfassen, Querverbindungen deutlich machen. Wie bekommt man Debussy, Haydn, Liszt und Beethoven unter dem Sammeltitel ‘Venezia e Napoli’ unter einen Hut? Man sollte in diesem Falle nicht all zu viele Gedanken zum Cover verschwenden, sondern sich der Musik und dem Spiel Caroline Oltmanns zuwenden.
Die Dozentin an der ‘Youngston State University’ im US-Bundesstaat Ohio berührt mit ihrem klaren, leicht schimmernden Ton, in dem man einen inneren Nachhall verspürt, der zum Verweilen einlädt. Das zarte, feingliedrige Klangbild eignet sich sehr gut für Debussy und auch bei Haydn. Ihrem Liszt hingegen hätte ein bisschen mehr Punch, mehr Klangrausch gut getan.
CD titles can be mysterious. They should firmly tie together a program, and illuminate cross relationships. So how does one connect Debussy, Haydn, Liszt and Beethoven under the title ‘Venezia e Napoli? One should not ponder too much about the cover, but rather turn to the playing of Caroline Oltmanns. A professor at Youngstown State University in the US state of Ohio touches with her clear, light and scintillating tone, in which one senses an inner echo, which in turn invites to keep listening. This sensitive and delicate sound world is well suited to Debussy and Haydn. Her Liszt could have however profited from a little bit more punch, and more rapture of sound.
This review was originally written in German and later translated into English.
Bayerischer Rundfunk – Klassik (Germany)
Venezia e Napoli
Dr. Ursula Adamski-Störmer
Venezia e Napoli – concert pianist Caroline Oltmanns releases her latest album under this title. And the title also represents the program of the CD. The track list includes of course Franz Liszt’s work by the same title. The graphic design with its inspiring cover and booklet photos of the Serinissima make this album a condensed piece of art. But it is not all about the pilgrimages of Franz Liszt.
Sparkling reflections on the water of the lagoon, mellow rocking gondolas at dawn in Venice. The lighting is diffuse and leaves the mysteries of a new day unsolved…and then the gondolier begins to sing to his beloved as he glides over the water of the canal. Liszt sets this scene in such a way, in his supplement to book II of his Annees de Pelerinage that music and scene become one.
Musical Travel Diary:
It is this three part supplement titled Venezia e Napoli, that Franz Liszt added – as a revised version of an earlier draft – to his musical travel diaries. Caroline Oltmanns centers her latest CD around this work, and what a recording it is! She seems to follow Liszt’s cue by presenting her very own and highly personal musical travel diary, a diary, which leads from Liszt to three of the great composers of the piano literature: Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Claude Debussy. With Debussy’s first book of Images begins the journey, a glistening taste of the lagoon scenes of Franz Liszt. But in Debussy’s rendition the waves glow like the intimate excitement of the soul, filled with clarity and luminous choreography.
Master of the Art of Color:
Born in Fürth, Germany, pianist Caroline Oltmanns again proves in her latest release that she is a true master of the art of phrasing and color. In the US, where she has taught since the 90s as a Professor of Piano at Youngstown State University, she has become a well-known artist. In Germany she is still an undiscovered secret, however this recording might make her a household name. Her organic phrasing paired with finely developed pedaling and great sense of storytelling is so riveting, instilling into Debussy’s Mouvement exactly what the composer stipulates: fantastic but exact lightness. And her playing is filled with fantasy in the greatest sense of the word. Caroline Oltmanns always steers the listener towards the inspiration behind the notes. She is able to lead the listener towards the most contrasting worlds of music with her most winning ability to inspire and with her stunning and spotless technical precision. She presents Joseph Haydn’s famous E-flat sonata with a warm tone, and marked motivic contours. Her witty juxtaposition of themes, paired with radiant and playful classical elegance lead to the introduction of the breathtaking fate motive.
Caroline Oltmanns‘ musical travels finally lead to Beethoven’s seven Bagatelles, where, as if with a wink of the eye, she sets a marked but also humorous ending point to the recording. This journey on the river of piano literature with four stops at four great composers comes to its conclusion – all presented with great clarity, yet leaving the last secret to music itself. A CD one wants to hear over and over!!!
This review was originally written in German and later translated into English.
Hoefner Volksblatt (Switzerland)
...Caroline Oltmanns mesmerizes her audience again and again with seeming abandon.
Oltmanns gives intimate recital with engaging commentary
Before concert halls became ubiquitous, piano recitals were usually intimate affairs staged in domestic music rooms or salons. Caroline Oltmanns recreated that kind of ambiance during her recital on Sunday. The room is not large, though the ceiling is lofty. The audience was good-sized for a February Sunday, and the piano, somewhere between a baby grand and a six-footer, was the sort of instrument you might encounter in someone’s living room.
Oltmanns took profit of all of those circumstances to spend an engaging hour communicating directly to her listeners, both through her flawless and eloquent playing and through her running commentary. Her remarks were pithy, apt and informative, and served to put her on an equal footing with the audience even though it was clearly her role to be the professor in the room.
The pianist began and ended her program with Chopin: the Fantasie Impromtu in c-sharp, op. 66 and the Scherzo in c-sharp, op. 39, explaining that both pieces featured a middle section in D-flat but of quite different character. She played op. 66 with graceful elegance.
Oltmanns went on to caution the audience that Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, op. 53 would require the most concentration on their part of any piece on the program, but went on to make their job easier with a performance remarkable for its clarity of concept and architectural coherence. Turning next to modern music, Oltmanns spoke fondly of George Crumb’s Morning Music from Markrokosmos II. Demonstrating one way of preparing a piano, she tucked a sheet of paper among the strings, then gave an absorbing account of a little piece that even the most conservative listener could feel friendly toward. After sharing a bit of biographical information about the ever-colorful Eric Satie, including his need to make some money on the side to support his absinthe habit, Caroline Oltmanns treated her listeners to an amusing journey through Je te veux, one such pot-boiler (or pour boirer?) that might have penetrated the smoky air at Le Chat Noir. Oltmann’s last comments prefaced the Chopin scherzo and chronicled his attempted move to Mallorca to improve his health. Facing hostility from the natives, he, George Sand and her two children ended up exiled and pianoless in a convent where he wrote op. 39 with its chorale-like middle section. “It’s almost a religious experience”; she noted. And it was. In response to an immediate standing ovation, Oltmanns offered a quasi-jazz encore, an exercise by Friedrich Gulda, who once taught Martha Argerich. That brought a near-perfectly proportioned Sunday afternoon piano recital to a fine conclusion.
Pianist Caroline Oltmanns offered new points of view for seemingly familiar repertoire works. The centerpiece was Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata op. 53. Through delicate use of pedal and intelligent playing the visionary character of the work came alive, even though the interpretation stayed at all times extremely close and true to the score. Her interpretation never was just a dry lecture, but rather utter enjoyment.
Music from the Western Reserve, Hudson Ohio
Youngstown State University piano professor Caroline Oltmanns launched the new season of Music From The Western Reserve’s distinguished concert series at Christ Episcopal Church in Hudson on Sunday afternoon with an engaging hour of music by Schubert, Beethoven, James Wilding and Chopin. Oltmann’s easy confidence as a performer and her skill as a commentator drew the nice-sized audience in as though listeners and performer were gathered together in an intimate living room.
The centerpiece of the afternoon was Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata, op. 53, which Oltmanns prefaced with the intelligence that the sonata’s earlier nickname was L’Aurore (Dawn) and with the caveat that this would, at 25 minutes, be the most demanding listening assignment of the afternoon. She dispatched the work with a refreshing straightforwardness and relaxed tempos which allowed the music to breathe in places where other pianists press nervously forge ahead. The finalprestos gained extra character from that approach.Oltmanns began her program with Schubert’s e-flatImpromptu, an agreeable burst of lyricism with nicely-voiced chords. A set of Chopin pieces — the Nocturne in c, op. 48, Etude in A-flat, op. 25 no. 1, “Harp” and the Scherzo in c-sharp, op. 39 — revealed the pianist’s gentle virtuosity and sure touch.
The pianist’s banter with the audience included a “don’t be afraid” prologue to James Wilding’s Stalking Bit by Bit (2001) and Take Nine (2011), which followed the Beethoven. No one needed to be wary: Wilding’s comical cat and mouse epic was modern but no more frightening than a Tom & Jerry cartoon, whileTake Nine rang changes on an accessible nine-beat-to-the-bar pattern that was only mildly dissonant and quite listenable. Oltmanns coyly revealed afterwards that Wilding was her husband. He would have received the same warm applause in any case.
Stephanie Fellenstein, Hudson Hub Times
For the love of music
On the outside, it looks like a normal house. But inside is another story. Music pours out of the concert grand piano in the "office." Dr. Caroline Oltmanns is the ringmaster, guiding the notes up and down the keyboard sometimes furiously, sometimes with ultimate tenderness. The result is a masterpiece.
Oltmanns, who recently performed as part of the Music from the Western Reserve's 31st season before heading to Switzerland, is a professor of piano at Youngstown State University.
While in her heart of hearts she always knew music was her calling, it was a roundabout route that brought her to a career that is constantly reaching new heights.
The beginning of a dream.
Oltmanns was born in a small town in Bavaria, Germany. She was the third of five children -- four girls and a boy.
"We all played the piano," she says.
When Oltmanns was about 3 years old, her older sister, who was 10 at the time, thought it would be fun to play "piano lesson." Oltmanns was the student and her sister was the teacher.
"She would teach me whatever she was learning at the time," she says, adding that the song was Minuet in G. "She really started me playing."
Oltmanns soon started taking lessons and studied with the same teacher as her brother and sister.
"When I was 10, I walked to school with my best friend. She told me all about her teacher and what she was learning. I thought, 'my teacher doesn't do any of that.'"
Oltmanns begged her parents to let her study at the conservatory where her friend studied.
"It was an hour away and I took the train," she says. "I really wanted to do it. My parents never forced me to practice. We had a German Steinway piano at home and I would fall asleep to my brother practicing Brahms' Rhapsody the floor below me."
When it came time for college, Oltmanns says her parents were not happy that she wanted to study music.
"They wanted me to do something to make a living at," she says.
She put music aside and decided to go to law school. For two years, on her way to a lecture, she would walk past the music school.
"One day I decided to go in and see what they offered," she says.
With only six weeks until an entrance exam, Oltmanns says her parents said she could do it if she passed the exam.
She passed the test and never looked back.
"I remember thinking, 'this is it. I love this. I want to be here. Everyone wants to be here. Everyone wants to practice,'" she says.
Soon after she was accepted to the program, the school hired a new teacher, a rank 4 teacher, the highest rank.
"I knew I wanted to study with whoever won the job," she says.
It was Robert Levin, who retired last spring after 20 years as the Dwight P. Robinson, Jr. professor of the Humanities at Harvard.
"Of course I remember Caroline," says Levin, who emailed from Tokyo. "I remember her as an enthusiastic and engaged young musician, eager to respond to artistic guidance."
Levin taught at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany from 1986 to 1993.
It was Levin who suggested Oltmanns attend the Sarasota Music Festival and continue her studies with John Perry, a friend of his, in Los Angeles.
Oltmanns and Levin kept in touch over the years mostly through email, he says. "I am very happy that she has been a successful concert artist and pedagogue."
Oltmanns says when Levin suggested she study with Perry, "I went home and looked up Los Angeles on my map."
Then she applied for a Fulbright scholarship which she received and headed off to study with Perry at the University of Southern California.
"I was supposed to stay one year, but wanted to stay longer," she says.
With an assistantship in hand and working toward her doctorate, Oltmanns ended up staying for five years.
While in California, Oltmanns' friend was taking a class called 'How to apply for college teaching positions.' Oltmanns gleaned all she could from her friend and sent out 25 resumes and portfolios.
At the time she was also working at the Jonathan Club, an exclusive club in Los Angeles.
"It was a very old-fashined place and they wanted a classical entertainer," she says. "I could pay my rent with the money I earned."
She said the staff at the club took care of her.
"They would signal me to wrap it up for my 20-minute break," she says. "I would run up four flights of stairs and wolf down the prime rib they made me and then go play again."
One June day, the phone rang at 7 a.m. Oltmanns had gotten home from the club at 3 a.m.
"I almost didn't answer," she says. The caller asked if Oltmanns was interested in auditioning at Youngstown State University for a teaching position.
She started teaching at YSU in 1994 and it has been a perfect fit.
Oltmanns says the school has been good to her.
She teaches three days a week and has up to 12 students.
"Once a week we all meet together," she says. "The students play for each other which helps them learn how to perform for others."
The other meetings are one-on-one with Oltmanns.
With a busy performance schedule of her own, Oltmanns makes her schedule work.
"I have assistants to help me out when I'm traveling," she says.
Oltmanns played six concerts in Zurich in October. She is also performing in New York and Germany with a trip squeezed in to visit her husband's family in South Africa.
As if on cue, Wilding arrives home from a lecture. He is a composer and teaches theory, composition and piano at the University of Akron.
Hudson was a compromise, a halfway point between Akron and Youngstown.
"We looked in Berlin Lake and Tallmadge," Oltmanns says. "When I saw Hudson-Aurora Road, I knew this was the place."
Oltmanns and Wilding are passionate about music and their enthusiasm is contagious. They both push eachother to be better.
"Sometimes Jamie will play the part of the orchestra for me so I can practice my timing," she says.
Other times he will fill in for her during dress rehearsals if she has previous engagements.
And Oltmanns frequently performs Wilding's compositions -- like "Stalking bit by bit," which sounds exactly like a cat toying with its prey when she plays it.
She will play Wilding's piano composition, "Greek Goddesses" in seven movements, in New York this month. And Oltmanns and Wilding are both excited about a performance in Germany next year.
Wilding wrote the show, a tribute to American composer George Crumb. Oltmanns will play as well as two drummers and a flutist.
She describes the music as contemporary.
"The Crumb pieces will flow and then spill into Chinese opera music," she says. She and Wilding even found some Chinese gongs that will be used during the performance.
The venue itself, an old German butchery, will highlight the juxtaposition of styles.
Oltmanns practices four to five hours a day. Sometimes it's closer to six or seven hours if she has a performance coming up. "I usually spend one hour score reading and then the rest of the time playing," she says. "I don't usually take a day off."
Her YSU students are following her example and taking the world by storm.
One is a composer on the set of "Mad Men," while others are professors and professional musicians.
Oltmanns is committed to helping many more students in the future. She recently launched "88 Hearts for YSU," to raise money for scholarships for piano students with financial needs.
She was inspired by a student to start the scholarship.
"I had a student who played very well," she says. "But he couldn't afford shoes for auditions."
88 Hearts represents the 88 keys on the piano. Oltmanns is hoping to raise $10,000 to permanently endow the scholarship. For more information on 88 Hearts, contact Catherine Cala at 330-941-2752 or email@example.com. To make an online donation, visit www.ysu.edu/givetoysu, select "other" and type "88 Hearts Endowment" in the comments box.
All pianos are not created equal
Steinway is her favorite. Her parents had a Steinway.
"Youngstown State is an all Steinway school," she says. "69 instruments."
As she travels around the world, Oltmanns cannot bring her piano with her. She likens pianos to people.
"A bad one is like someone you have to pull stuff out of. I can work on a bad piano, but it's work. A good piano is like someone who is forthcoming," she says. "Sparks are flying."
And sparks will definitely be flying as Oltmanns moves on to the next phase of her already successful career.