Yefim Bronfman is famed for his technique, and in this respect he did not disappoint. Like a charging bull, his demonstration of the first two movements in particular was vigorous, athletic and muscular. He made light of the pieces many difficulties and almost visibly bent the concerto to his will. His lyrical relaxation in dialogue with the solo cello in the slow movement, and the light pianissimo he achieved at the start of the Finale, also demonstrated this was not a one-dimensional rendition. Indeed, with the exception of a few fluffs in the first movement, it was close to impossible to fault Bronfman.
With staunch, thought-out support from Dohnányi and the Philharmonia (with the exception of an unfortunate horn call in the Scherzo), the conductor a perfect foil to the soloists assertiveness, why was this not an ideal performance?The whole, in some way, was not the equal of the parts. Whether because Bronfman was too locked in the beauty of his own sound and the perfection of his technique, or because Dohnányis characteristic refinement did not quite combine with the soloists aggression, the concerto lacked that last element of inspiration and communication that turns good into great.
Schumanns orchestration is often criticised, and his lack of ease with large-scale forms remarked upon. This account of the Fourth Symphony (in the usual revised version) had coherence, integrity and no lack of richness. Dohnányi has been marked down for interpretations that are too repressed to be exciting. But here, whether in the first movements cat-like accelerations, the breadth of the Romanza or the sumptuous playing in the Scherzo and, especially, Trio, Dohnányi made the best possible case for Schumann the symphonist. Come the transition from Scherzo to Finale, hushed strings ushered in a moment of absolute stillness before the heroic endeavour of the Finale proper. A gentle, spacious, beautifully played and tellingly detailed Siegfried Idyll completed or rather opened the concert, Dohnányis reading an eloquent and rapt microcosm of Romantic music.
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