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New York
Carnegie Hall
04/15/2003 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata # 7
Esa-Pekka Salonen: Dichotomie
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Seven Preludes
Serge Prokofieff: Sonata # 7

Yefim Bronfman (piano)

The most notes for your entertainment dollar available anywhere in this town were offered last evening at Carnegie as pianist extraordinaire Yefim Bronfman dazzled by sheer dexterity and heavily weighted delivery of massive quantities of the little dotted devils. After a sensitive traversal of the Beethoven, notable for its poetic lento, Mr. Bronfman launched into an assault with little let-up for the next hour and a half.

You already know of what the Salonen piece consisted, even though you have probably not made its acquaintance as of yet. Contemporary music in America has reached the inert stage that European music stalled in around 1750, when symphonies of Cannabich and the Bach and Benda sons sounded remarkably alike, each pleasant in its own way perhaps, but none too individual in nature. Now, in 2003, desperate apologists point out each and every new blip and bleat as if they were climactically revolutionary. This current example was of the most favored stylistic genre, the interminable perpetuum mobile, complete with ever present glissandi substituting for what used to be called the “Mannheim roller” (crescendo) and sounding for all the world like any given piano effort by the two most convenient johns of the moment, Harbison and Adams. Certainly Bronfman performed this regurgitation expertly, even after disappointing the somewhat impatient crowd by playing the second part (the work, after all entitled Dichotomie, was printed on two separate sets of music paper), stifling the polite applause which appeared to be more a stillborn group sigh of relief. The only interesting variant on this tired theme was Mr. Salonen’s decidedly underwater French idiomatic language, a little like playing a 33 rpm recording of Pelleas at 78 speed (does this image even mean anything to listeners of Salonen’s generation?). If I came away irritated, it was only having to face the prospect of another tiresome attempt to describe this vacuous school of composition.

One would have thought that the barrage was over after the interval, however Bronfman chose three preludes of Rachmaninoff which also bombard the ears with a Malthusian dilemma of 32nd notes. The three (B-flat major, G minor and C minor) were, to be sure, interspersed with lovely softer pieces, played exquisitely by this wonderful artist (oddly, this whole program was very well performed, even in its circus-like guise of showiness), but the overall impression was that of being exposed to a bit too much violence.

Of course, all of these acrobatics were but an introduction to the granddaddy of all of the overcrowded scores, the last movement of the Prokofieff 7. I truly love this piece and cherish memories of Horowitz and that spectacular recording by Pollini, but Mr. Bronfman accomplished what I would not have thought possible: he transformed my idea of super excitement into just another boring run up and down the keyboard. This was not a function of his lack of technique (although I would have preferred a more dominant left hand to establish the relentless rhythmic pulse), but rather a direct result of the context of this recital. It was inexcusable for him to so dilute the dramatic impact of this amazing essay, originally projected by Prokofieff to be but one third of a giant sonata encompassing what we now know as numbers 6, 7 and 8. For execution, Mr. Bronfman deserves an A; for programming, only a C minus.

Absolutely exhausted and apologizing for playing only one gentle encore, Mr. Bronfman told us all that it had been a very taxing day. For the listener as well…

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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