Yefim Bronfman at Carnegie Hall – Review

By Jonathan Spira on 15 April 2010
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Pianist Yefim Bronfman is not a household name but his concert at Carnegie Hall this past Monday may go a long way towards changing that.

Bronfman’s program brought together a variety of works and composers that one would not immediately think of grouping together.

Written in 1806, Beethoven’s Thirty-Two Variations on an Original Theme in C Minor is indeed a major but less performed work.  Based on a theme devised by the composer himself, the piece gave Bronfman the opportunity to display his incredible dexterity and endless energy.  The variations themselves provide a whirlwind tour through major and minor modes, quiet and stormy passages, virtuosic running scales, and jumping octaves.  In Bronfman’s interpretation, every note could be heard and had a distinct voice.

Jörg Widmann’s XI Humoresken (2007) were inspired by Schumann’s humoresques and explore “different forms of humor (or even its absence)” according to the composer.  Although Bronfman played the 11 variations impressively, and there were several enjoyable moments [I particularly enjoyed the eighth movement, Zerrinendes Bild (Streaming Image)], I would need to hear this piece again to even begin to make sense of it.

Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 (1839-1842) shared the intensity of the Humoresken but was far more familiar.  Faschingsschwank, incidentally, is a neologism by the composer comprised of Fasching (Carnival) and Schwank (Jest).

After the intermission came the Tchaikovsky Sonata in G Major, Op. 37 (1878), which was apparently a kind of problem child during its gestation.

“[This piece] doesn’t come easily,” the composer wrote. “I work unsuccessfully, with little progress… I have to force myself. I’m having to squeeze out of myself weak and feeble ideas.  But I keep at it, and hope that imagination will suddenly strike.”

The first two movements were, despite the pianist’s best efforts, uninspiring although the last two were dazzling displays of virtuosity.

The audience was taken by Bronfman’s grace and intensity and he wowed them with three engaging encores, Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2, Liszt’s Étude No. 2 in E-flat Major from Grandes études de Paganini, and the Scherzo (Allegro marcato) from Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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