On May 5, members of the LA Phil, joined by pianist Yefim Bronfman, performed a chamber music concert of works by Brahms and Smetana. The concert was like a fine wine in one respect: it got better as it aged.
The concert opened with the Trio in A minor, Op. 114 for viola, cello and piano by Brahms featuring John Hayhurst on viola, David Garrett on cello and Junko Ueno-Garrett on piano. Brahms originally wrote the piece for clarinet, but later arranged it for viola. The performance on Tuesday night was lackluster, which is not a term one wants to use for Brahms. Hayhurst’s playing wasn’t loud enough to compete with Garrett’s sonorous sound. And although Ueno-Garrett hit all the right notes, her playing lacked the passion needed to convey the emotion and passion in any Brahms chamber music. Other than her hands and fingers, her body didn’t move.
The first half concluded with the String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“From My Life”) by Smetana featuring Principal Second Violinist Lyndon Johnston Taylor and violinist Ingrid Chun, violist Dale Hikawa-Silverman and cellist David Garrett. Smetana composed this very personal and intimate quartet toward the end of his life after having gone completely deaf from syphilis. The first sforzando E minor chord foretells the dramatic and reflective nature of the quartet, and the musicians delivered a passionate performance. Garrett’s moving playing in the Brahms Trio was matched by his fellow musicians in the Smetana.
The second half was devoted to the Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 by Brahms featuring First Associate Concertmaster Nathan Cole and Associate Concertmaster Bing Wang, Principal Violist Carrie Dennis, Principal Cellist Robert deMaine and pianist Yefim Bronfman. This was the wine at its absolute best. With Bronfman (who could be called Brahmsman because of his Brahms-like girth and penchant for playing Brahms), the cream of the crop of LA Phil string players gave the audience a riveting performance of the quintet. It was raw and driving when it needed to be, and lyrical (mostly in the second movement) when it needed to be.
The musicians played with their entire bodies, especially Wang and Dennis. Dennis’ movements were so violent at times that they shook her hair loose, and by the time the piece concluded she looked like she had done battle. Even Bronfman bounced up and down on the piano.
Several years ago there was a television commercial with musicians performing the Brahms quintet in which the pianist played so hard that the piano crumbled beneath his hands and the string players destroyed their instruments a la The Who and Jimi Hendrix. The performance on Tuesday night had such intensity that one fully expected the same thing to happen. It was a memorable performance of a masterpiece.
—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA
Bronfman will play the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel this weekend, May 7-10. For information on upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.