IN: Reviews

Yefim Bronfman Dazzles Groton

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Yefim Bronfman (file photo)

Yefim Bronfman’s piano recital for the Concord Chamber Music Society at the beautiful new Groton Hill Music Center impressed me deeply last Sunday. The Uzbekistan-born Israeli-American with the fingers of a Swiss watchmaker opened with Schubert’s “Little A Minor” Sonata, D 784. In three movements, it’s not as well known as the bigger A Minor (D 845). The first movement, the largest-proportioned, is notable for a theme with two identical notes of the same duration. It ranges from delicate pianissimo to the loudest fanfare that the piano can muster, over a booming dotted-rhythm bass. Bronfman seemed entirely at ease with this, drawing forth a fine tone over the wide dynamic range. The F major slow movement is almost sentimental, but it is brief, and the running triplets of the finale that follows raise simple noodling to the empyrean.

Bronfman had some problems at first with Schumann’s , Carnival Jest from Vienna, op. 26, subtitled “Fantasy Pictures.” The opening refrain of arpeggiated chords, returning four times, was mostly blurred, the eighth notes not clearly articulated and/or overpedaled, making for an overly bumptious improvised sound. And there’s a syncopated-trochaic passage soon after when you can’t feel the barline and it never seems to work — blame Schumann for that. But the barely concealed quote from “La Marseillaise” brought a broad knowing smile, and the remainder of the Carnival Jest — Romanze, Scherzino, Intermezzo, and Finale, all very short — went very well, full of wit and animation. It’s fun as well as sarcastic-serious.

The second half lacked the previously advertised Chopin B Minor Sonata rather gave us the master’s great Nocturne in D-flat Major, op. 27, no. 2; Bronfman delivered it with exquisite care and feeling, as though nothing else in the world mattered.

Prokofiev’s completed his Seventh Sonata, op. 83, nominally in B-flat major, during the years of the Great Patriotic War, and it’s no wonder that the tempo marking of the first movement is Allegro inquieto. This well-wrought, spare-textured piece is sharp and dry, but there’s a dance spirit in it as well, interspersed with quietly expressive andantino episodes. The slow movement, with some corny melody that almost might have come from Stephen Foster but that broadens out into a Rachmaninoff-like grandiosity, gives some idea of what an expert and acerbic pianist Prokofiev himself must have been. But the most famous part of this popular Soviet work is the Precipitato finale, a big toccata in 7/8 meter. Bronfman brought the whole thing to life in a roar, and the entranced full house fully signaled its enthusiasm.

It was plain that our visitor enjoyed the reception and the temper of the moment, obliging the rapt listeners with two encores, Schumann’s Arabeske in C Major — I never heard it more lovingly played — and Rachmaninoff’s ever-popular G Minor Prelude, op. 23, no. 5.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy, and other early 20th-century composers. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on many music subjects, and edited the revised fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.

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  1. Given the dearth of coverage for classical music around the greater Boston area, we are grateful for BMInt’s thoughtful reporting.

    Professor DeVoto, once again, provides an excellent concert review. From our seats in the first row of the Groton Hill concert hall’s balcony, the opening of the Schumann did not sound particularly blurred, but appreciative listeners can disagree. Thanks for acknowledging Concord Chamber Music Society’s presentation of Bronfman’s well-played performance.

    Comment by Bill Blake — March 21, 2024 at 12:04 pm

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