Bronfman triumphs as Tilson Thomas returns to New World for Rachmaninoff

By Lawrence Budmen

Piano soloist Yefim Bronfman and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas performed a four-hand Mozart encore together Saturday night. Photo: Alex Marlow

For decades, Yefim Bronfman has been one of the most reliable keyboard virtuosos on the international concert circuit.  On Saturday night at the Arsht Center, Bronfman exceeded his own high standards in a thrilling performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, the centerpiece of an all -Rachmaninoff concert by the New World Symphony under artistic director laureate Michael Tilson Thomas. 

From the initial phrases of the opening Allegro man non tanto, Bronfman brought a sense of the rhapsodic, his touch velvety as well as powerful. Keyboard-spanning octaves were rendered at a dizzying clip. In the solo cadenza, the soloist’s hall-filling volume made the piano sound like a full orchestra. Bronfman mined the deep nostalgia of the Adagio, seconded by the darkly resonant sonority from the violas. He took the finale at lightning speed, yet every note was perfectly placed. Bronfman infused a devilish wit into the secondary figurations, and the final cascade of fireworks capturing the Russian romantic spirit par excellence. Few pianists since Vladimir Horowitz have scaled this awesome pianistic mountain with such artistry, dazzling technique and patrician musicality.

Tilson Thomas partnered Bronfman every bar of the way, mirroring his phrasing, syncopation and intensity of expression. Inner orchestral details that usually are obscured were totally transparent and he brought out the rich string textures beneath the romance and passion of the second movement. With ensemble playing at white heat, this was a Rachmaninoff performance of combustible fervor.

In response to a standing, screaming ovation  that was greatly deserved, Tilson Thomas joined Bronfman at the piano for a sparkling rendition of the third movement from Mozart’s’s Piano Sonata in D major for four hands, K. 381. Their palpable joy at playing together came through in every note of this fun encore.

In more matter-of-fact readings, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor can seem like a sprawling opus but Tilson Thomas offered a purposeful, coherent traversal that avoided emotional excess or brassy overkill. After a brooding slow introduction, a tautly contoured Allegro moderato gathered intensity and momentum. 

Tilson Thomas pushed fast tempos to the limit in the fiery Allegro molto (second movement). Lustrous strings, replete with full vibrato, gave sweep to the contrasting subject and solemn brass chords near the conclusion of the movement carried almost sacred weight. 

The strength of this season’s string fellows was on full display in a heart-on-sleeve version of the Adagio. Juliana Darby shaped the clarinet solo with a mellow tonal glow. The energetic opening of the final Allegro vivace emerged like a ray of musical sunshine after a nighttime reverie. Tilson Thomas reattached up the voltage of climactic fortes to a stirring climax.

Tilson Thomas , who has been battling brain cancer, looked hearty and conducted with energy and vigor. He was awarded multiple ovations by audience and players and, clearly remains in top musical form.

Conducting fellow Chad Goodman opened the evening with a flowing and lyrical version of the vignette Spring Waters, beloved of Russian balletomanes, highlighted by the clarion trumpet of Alan Tolbert.

Orion Weiss plays Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in the next New World Symphony chamber concert, which also features works by Dorothy Hindman, Lili Boulanger, Roussel and Lutoslawski  2 p.m. November 6  at New World Center.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Bronfman triumphs as Tilson Thomas returns to New World for Rachmaninoff”

  1. Posted Oct 24, 2022 at 6:41 pm by Leslie Untracht

    The Rachmaninov 3 played by Bronfman and Directed by Tilson Thomas was a memorable once in a lifetime experience. The magic was exponentially palpable. Thank you for the magic

Leave a Comment

Sun Oct 23, 2022
at 1:33 pm
1 Comment