Among the concert-presenting organizations marking significant anniversaries, Shriver Hall opened its 50th season in Baltimore on Sunday evening. Pianist Yefim Bronfman did the honors, with a recital centered on the first four sonatas of Prokofiev, one of his specialties. Some musical luminaries were in the audience for the occasion, including violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Leon Fleisher, Bronfman’s onetime teacher.
The program was an abridged version of the complete Prokofiev piano sonata cycle that Bronfman is playing around the world this season, generally spaced over three evenings. Here, Bronfman played only the four early sonatas, all completed before the end of World War I. That left out the most celebrated, virtuosic pieces, somewhat deflating the overall effect. While Bronfman’s interpretations were technically assured, it was instead his control of touch that most impressed. In the exquisite slow movements of the second and fourth sonatas, which were the best of the evening, he separated onion-thin layers of delicate voicing and produced countless gradations of gossamer-soft sound.
What was lacking was the stinging bite that can give these often dissonant works a devilish air. Instead, one had the sense of a performer holding back or playing it safe in some cases, as in the striking finale of the fourth sonata. Two Schumann pieces yielded similar results, with a beautifully shaded “Arabeske in C” outshining a slightly inhibited rendition of “Faschingsschwank aus Wien” (“Carnival in Vienna”), at least in the fast movements. With a wink, Bronfman offered an encore, “not by Prokofiev, I promise,” which turned out to be a nuanced, understated performance of a Scarlatti miniature, the Sonata in C Minor, K.11.
Downey is a freelance writer.