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A New Path

New York
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
12/05/2019 -  & December 6*, 7, 2019
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36 – Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Steve Reich: Music for Ensemble and Orchestra

Yefim Bronfman (piano)
New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden (conductor)

Y. Bronfman (© Oded Antman)

“The composer set himself the task in the Fourth Concerto of replacing the virtuosically conceived concerto of the classical period with a more lyrical genre. This concerto is often labelled an original work for quite another reason: the piano starts alone.”
Jonathan D. Kramer, Listen To The Music

2020 will see the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven and many organizations around the globe will be celebrating. Carnegie Hall, for example, will be offering two complete traversals of his symphonies once the calendar clicks over to the winter and spring seasons. The New York Philharmonic, by contrast, will be presenting virtually no Beethovenian events in the 2020 half of the main hall’s current schedule. It will be interesting to see the 2020-2021 calendar when it arrives – to be fair, Ludwig van’s actual birthday is not until December 16.

A symphony in the first half and a piano concerto in the second? Unusual but interesting. If there is one of the nine symphonies that is underappreciated and often unknown it is the Op. 36. Beethoven claimed that he learned nothing from Haydn, but this symphony exposes the truth. This is formalism in its purest and strictest form and, as such, is a delight. The smallish orchestra was precise and clear, if not as poetic as it might have been. But exposing the flights of fancy ingrained in the strict structures of this piece is a very tenuous process. Overall this was fine playing and that’s a lot to praise.

Steve Reich seems to subscribe to the philosophy that the less said the better. This is indeed a workable aesthetic, so I shall now create my own version. The program booklet describes the movements of Music for Ensemble and Orchestra as (quoting verbatim):

Talk about minimalism!

We New Yorkers have gotten spoiled over the years to have so many superb pianists living in our midst. For decades it was Horowitz and more recently Feltsman and Ohlsson. Now Yefim Bronfman is our hometown hero and this day he did not disappoint. How strong one has to be to play so delicately! With full orchestral sound to back him, Bronfman exhibited amazing strength and poetry in the same phrases, proving himself a master of dynamics. How a man so strong can create such diaphanous trills and filigree and still be able to enunciate the more powerful parts with full leonine strength is simply incredible. Maestro van Zweden matched his amazing musicianship with some pretty neat tricks of his own, the Philharmonic never sounding so versatile and articulate in memory (and I go back to Mitropoulos).

Fred Kirshnit



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