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Following two performances of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, Yefim Bronfman’s weekend with the New World Symphony concluded on Sunday afternoon with a recital/chamber music performance. There were a surprising number of empty seats at the New World Center for a performance by such a distinguished artist. Bronfman is greatly undervalued as a chamber player and the program also afforded the rare opportunity to hear him play music from the Classical era as well as the virtuosic Prokofiev that has often been his calling card.
Bronfman’s performances of concertos and sonatas by Haydn and Mozart have been infrequent but he is no less arresting an interpreter of this repertoire. In place of the originally announced Prokofiev Seventh Sonata, he offered Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 60 in C Major. This score is mature Haydn, written during the same period as his last twelve symphonies.
Playing the spare seven-note theme of the opening Allegro in the right hand, Bronfman deftly coordinated the left-hand ornamentation. He carefully observed Haydn’s dynamic markings, the pianissimos bringing real contrast to the gravitas and sturm und drang of the development’s variations. Bronfman captured the gentle delicacy of the Adagio and, despite a fleet tempo, the trills in the Allegro molto finale were clean and transparent. Haydn’s unexpected pauses and casual surprise ending were realized with wit and zest.
Bronfman was joined by New World Symphony violinist Jin Suk Yu and cellist Aaron Ludwig for a finely balanced reading of Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major (“Archduke”). While the keyboard’s role was appropriately prominent, Bronfman did not overpower the string players. He had coached the musicians thoroughly and, all three contributed to an outstanding performance with artistic insight. Ludwig’s light bowing and Yu’s glowing tone melded with the lightness of Bronfman’s touch.
The strings crisply stated the opening theme of the Scherzo while Bronfman’s dancelike syncopations radiated Viennese charm. Both the noble and playful side of the Andante cantabile were explored, the principal melody allowed to unfold in a slow, quiet manner. Violin and cello lines nicely dovetailed Bronfman’s phrasing. The Allegro moderato finale finds Beethoven at his sunniest and the players brought a shared spirit of lilt and verve to the final pages.
Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 in A Major, the first and least often played of the composer’s three “War Sonatas,” formed the program’s centerpiece in a performance that was vintage Bronfman. The jarring leap of the augmented fourth that opens the work thundered under his fingers. Even the seemingly lyrical secondary subject was infused with tension. Bronfman’s hands became a blur in the knuckle-busting figures and octave leaps; yet he never resorted to harsh banging or fudged passagework. Initially playing the spooky march theme of the Allegretto softly, Bronfman brought subtle variations of color and volume to the movement’s mock heroics and changing rhythms.
Bronfman’s even and measured playing of the third movement waltz suggested nostalgia and the spirit of Prokofiev’s ballets. The final Vivace was infused with fierce energy and there were dark tonal rumblings in the brief episode of calm. Most remarkably Bronfman brought off the sudden decrescendo in stunning fashion, the unexpected contrast powerfully conveyed.
The New World Symphony’s chamber music series continues 2 p.m. November 16 with New World fellows playing Peter Lieberson’s Accordance, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 and Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. nws.edu 305-673-3331.
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