Yefim Bronfman

Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.14
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat, Op.83
Humoreske, Op.20
Arabeske in C, Op.18

Yefim Bronfman (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 9 February, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Yefim Bronfman has long had something of a reputation as being a powerhouse pianist and this recital confirmed this in every way. Throughout Prokofiev’s Second Sonata Bronfman attacked the keyboard and made constant and generous use of the sustaining pedal. In the first movement this meant that the textures were less than clear and much of Prokofiev’s acerbity was lost. The scherzo would have benefited from more rhythmic spring and variation; the Andante needed more luminosity of tone and the last movement needed more humour and lilt. By the end I felt that I was being battered – albeit very impressively – into submission.

Schumann’s Humoreske is an extraordinary work, the composer said that it comprised of “variations, but no theme”. Lasting almost 30 minutes it comprises a myriad of tempo, rhythm, dynamic and key changes – yet it does cohere. The programme note stressed its four-part structure (or five depending on how the final ‘Zum Beschluß’ is viewed), but any great performance must show that the performer can effortlessly and seamlessly encompass its changing moods via subtleties of tone and balance. Unfortunately Bronfman’s approach was anything but subtle. Too often when a forte marking appeared he went to ff or above and came dangerously close to pounding the piano. Whenever the opening quiet ‘Einfach’ returned he would then drop down to pp or ppp and anything in between these extremes was rare. Some things were impressive. He imparted a polonaise-like rhythm to the penultimate ‘Mit einigem Pomp’ section, but once again within a few bars had moved to fff – as in the Prokofiev it all seemed over the top.

After the interval Schumann’s Arabeske was very slow and in the central section Bronfman was again far too loud, although the return of the first theme was very affecting and the ending was beautifully limpid. Prokofiev’s most famous Sonata, No.7, brought another barnstorming performance. In the first movement he relaxed a lot for the second subject and used less pedal than in the Second Sonata. The beautiful Andante caloroso opened with a subtle cantabile line and gentle fingers; however, somewhat predictably, Bronfman in the stormy second section went straight to fff, there was no gradual dynamic build up. To say that the last movement Precipitato is a virtuoso tour de force would probably be an understatement and here Bronfman chose a relatively fast tempo but failed to delineate the rhythms in the way that, say, Argerich, Horowitz, Pollini or Richter do: less pedal and a greater use of staccato would have imparted greater clarity and savagery to the music.

This concert was, as a demonstration of power pianism, superb, but four times in my notes I used the word ‘pounding’. In a small hall such as the Wigmore – which has perfect acoustics and superbly maintained pianos – a performer needs to make far more use of the p to mf range than Bronfman did; had he have done so, these performances might have been exceptional.

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