Bronfman Keeps His Hands Full

Monday, May 14, 2007

One could forgive pianist Yefim Bronfman for pulling the daunting Schumann Fantasy from his recital Friday night at Strathmore Hall given what else he tackled that evening: Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" and Balakirev's "Islamey," two of the most fearsome virtuoso works in the repertoire. Bronfman substituted Schumann's slightly less challenging "Faschingsschwank aus Wien" ("Carnival Jest From Vienna"), and like everything else on the program it was virtually note-perfect.

The opening Beethoven Sonata Op. 27, No. 1, was gently drawn; with Bronfman's carefully weighted chords, the melodies could sing softly without having to force. In the turbulent finale, however, and more particularly in the Schumann, it became clear that the artist was making no concessions to the hall. Tempo and pedalings were calibrated to a much drier acoustic, and the finales of both works often came out as undifferentiated washes of sound with occasional banged chords. In the Schumann (as well as his Chopin encore), Bronfman also showed an occasional tendency to skim over phrase endings and shortchange longer notes.

The program's second half was more successful. Ravel's "Ondine" was not ideal; the right-hand playing was uneven, sounding more like pulsating rhythms than light glistening off the water. But Bronfman's "Le gibet" was the best I can recall -- chilling, obsessive, nightmarish -- and his repeated notes in the "Scarbo" were almost miraculous. The concert concluded with a stunning rendition of "Islamey," in which the keyboard fireworks were detonated almost insolently. Bronfman does not bring a lot of overt "personality" to his playing, but his interpretations are mature and satisfying.

-- Robert Battey


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