Pinchas Zukerman & Yefim Bronfman at Carnegie Hall

Sonata in B flat for Piano and Violin, K454
Sonata in F for Violin and Piano, Op.24 (Spring)
Sonata in E flat for Viola and Piano, Op.120/2

Pinchas Zukerman (violin & viola) & Yefim Bronfman (piano)

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 20 November, 2010
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Pinchas ZukermanMozart’s earlier sonatas for piano and violin have the latter instrument taking on a subservient role to the piano. However, after Mozart met the Italian virtuoso violinist Regina Strinasacchi, he wrote a sonata for her in which the two instruments’ importance is more balanced. There exists a legend that at the premiere of the work in 1784, Mozart had not yet written out the piano part, and the composer performed it from memory without ever rehearsing it with Strinasacchi.

Pinchas Zukerman and Yefim Bronfman were mismatched in their interpretation. Bronfman’s phrasing was lovely and understated, with a fluidity that felt perfectly suited to the composer’s intent. While Zukerman’s phrasing had some attractive moments, particularly in the slow movement, his exaggeration of dynamics and heavy accents were overdone. Although his tone had a fantastic range of quality, it became too shrill during forte passages on the E string. Zukerman’s tendency to maintain the volume of the final note of the phrase felt unnaturally tense and awkward, as if there was no final exhalation, only an abrupt stopping of the sound.

Yefim Bronfman. Photograph: Dario AcostaThis tendency resurfaced during Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata, and became quite annoying in its frequency, yet was more stylistically justified in this work. The players took the first movement on the slow side, and Bronfman played with sensitivity and wonderful warmth of tone. Zukerman’s interpretation was exciting in its drama, with much emphasis on changes of mood and exaggerated dynamics and articulation. However, this is a lyrical piece, and one could argue that a simpler interpretation would serve it better. The melodic flow felt compromised during the Adagio. The theatricality was better suited to the scherzo. The finale seemed rather labored until the theme’s final iterations, when the drama was appreciated.

Zukerman switched to the viola for the Brahms. On this instrument, he had the same perfection of intonation and largeness of tone as on the violin. His viola had a unique timbre that was wonderfully inspiring. The sheer sonic force of his fortissimos was particularly awesome in that they never felt strained, and his lower range never sounded murky. The range of timbre, though varied, was more consistent than on the violin. Although Zukerman’s quirky phrase-endings still made occasional appearances, his phrasing generally was more breath-centered, appropriately mimicking the clarinet, for which this piece was originally written. The intensity of emphasis that Zukerman favors was necessary in this romantic piece. Bronfman also played with greater dynamic range and he was thrilling, completely owning the work.

Zukerman’s first encore was the fourth of Schumann’s Fairy Tales for viola. Zukerman captured the sweet simplicity of the music and then switched back to the violin for another Mozart sonata-movement, confidently played, yet it really was Bronfman’s chance to shine one last time.

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