Known to be one of the greatest pianists of his generation, Yefim Bronfman didn’t disappoint during his performance at the President’s Piano Series at Meany Hall Tuesday evening.
Yefim Bronfman’s name is always on the short list of the greatest pianists in his generation. The opportunity to hear him in recital, however, doesn’t come around very often, so his performance Tuesday evening on the President’s Piano Series attracted an eager crowd of keyboard fans.
They were not disappointed. In a recital program Bronfman recently performed on tour in Italy and will bring to Carnegie Hall in a few weeks, he demonstrated artistic finesse and surprising grace alongside the fabulous, fearsome technique that has made the 59-year-old a keyboard legend.
And what a program! Designed to show a wide stylistic range and the breadth of Bronfman’s interpretive abilities, it offered Bartok’s Op. 14 Suite, Schumann’s “Humoreske” (Op. 20), Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque,” and Stravinsky’s “Three Movements from ‘Petrushka’.” Modern, romantic, impressionist, neoclassical — this recital had something for every listener, and gave Bronfman a wide array of artistic possibilities.
The four-movement Bartok Suite, heard relatively seldom in recital, was given a scrupulously varied reading that ranged from the jaunty and cheerful to the propulsive and declamatory, with a finale as surprisingly soft-focus as an Impressionist canvas.
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Schumann’s lengthy and mercurial “Humoreske” (Op. 20) came from a different sonic universe, and Bronfman gave full rein to the romantic melodies and the rapid changes in this score. And yet there was nothing excessive about his approach; if anything, the playing was rather understated.
Bronfman is not a pianist you typically associate with the gauzy scores of Debussy, so his performance of “Suite Bergamasque” was all the more surprising: wonderful clarity and evenness, with perfectly judged glissandi and a wide palette of keyboard colors. The Suite’s famous third movement, “Clair de lune,” was revelatory: fleet, clean, shimmering, and light on the sustaining pedal. It was startlingly effective and free of the usual interpretive clichés.
The program’s finale could not have been more different: the “Petrushka” suite, originally written for orchestra, was presented here in the most orchestral keyboard you’re ever likely to hear. The sheer power of Bronfman’s technique, the rapid-fire artillery of repeated notes, the cataclysmic crescendos, and the huge sonority were overwhelming. With these enormous, crashing chords, combined with startlingly tranquil contrasts, and rendered at top speed with an almost superhuman accuracy, Bronfman pushes hard at the boundaries of what is possible on the piano.
Not surprisingly, the audience leapt to its collective feet for a standing ovation. Bronfman returned to the stage for a single encore, offering the contrast of tranquil simplicity in Schumann’s familiar Op. 8 “Arabeske” (“Arabesque”) after the explosive fireworks of the Stravinsky. The piano, however, may need a rest cure at a clinic in Switzerland.