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Prometheus Bound… For Glory

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
01/07/2010 -  & January 8, 12, 2010
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Opus 16
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27

Yefim Bronfman (Pianist)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Music Director and Conductor)

A. Gilbert (© Chris Lee)

Shakespeare’s immortal rustic, Bottom, could have described Yefim Bronfman better than any music writer: “I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you as ‘twere any nightingale.”

Oxymoron or not, this fits the Russian-Israeli powerhouse perfectly. No matter what he plays, one feels that his fingers want to roar, to pound, to tear the piano to bits with the Promethean strength which he possesses. but no, he is Prometheus bound–bound by the notes, the conductor, the rules of the game.

As well as the rules of his own sensitivity. For after the Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto, where his playing was almost startlingly good, Mr. Bronfman gave an amazing encore.

More on that later. For what he gave to the Prokofiev was unforgettable. At the beginning, one felt the warming-up of the champion in the clever octave theme. Within seconds, Mr. Bronfman leaned back (he needs no physical affectations), and started that incredible journey of long cadenzas and superhuman technique. There is one problem with this work. After the rapid finger passages, the brilliant staccatos and glitter octaves, it doesn’t leave that much room for an artist’s personality to come through, does it?

Well, in Mr. Bronfman’s case it does, of course. First, one feels that the fingers that could have roared can also hold themselves back, as in the beautiful second theme of the finale, where they do “roar like a nightingale.” But more important, in that one theme, Mr. Bronfman and the orchestra played the oh so Slavic theme with a Russian tenderness, a feeling that, wits all its fireworks, this is the work of a composer whose instinctual feelings for his country often transcended mere brilliance.

For an encore, Mr. Bronfman played the entire Schumann Arabesque, where the sound was velvet. No orchestra to bind him, nothing except the poetry, which is as much part of him as the power.

I have the feeling that the pianist set the pace for Alan. Gilbert here. In the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony, Mr. Gilbert indulged his own feelings. Like all the Bruckner symphonies, this Rachmaninoff has been cut, edited, and castrated in all four movements. Originally, it was not done for musical reasons, but to crowd the movements onto a certain number of 78 rpm records but other conductors felt that audiences couldn’t take 60 minutes of a symphony, so they cut at will (often with the composers cooperation.)

Unfair as it may seem, those cuts work with Rachmaninoff and Bruckner, but one would never ever fiddle away with Mahler in this manner. Still, this Second Symphony showed Mr. Gilbert conducting the full hour with all the fervor needed. The opening was suitably melancholy, but the Phil strings played with all the delicacy, all the sensitivity needed. The other movements gave indications of the Rachmaninoff moods (and moodiness), with an especially fervent closing.

If this was a generic un-idiosyncratic performance, one felt the Philharmonic was at its very best. Not simply with first chair solos, with the entire orchestra, the great consorts of brass and strings blending into a magnificent tapestry.

Harry Rolnick



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