A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Yefim Bronfman / photo courtesy of LA Phil

On Saturday night, the Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan conducted the LA Phil to a packed house in Walt Disney Concert Hall in an all-Russian program featuring works by Borodin, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. The three works in the program — Borodin’s Overture to Prince Igor, composed between 1869 and 1887, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, composed in 1909, and the Suite from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev, composed in 1935 — represent three generations in Russian music. All three have in common soaring melodies and a distinctive Russian flavor.

The concert began with the overture to Borodin’s opera Prince Igor, although to be fair the version we hear today was orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov based on hearing a piano version played by Borodin and on sketches of the unfinished opera. Either way, the overture sparkles with melodies from the opera that, like other compositions by the composer, simultaneous weave together different melodies. LA Phil Principal Horn Andrew Bain shone with his solo. The Borodin was a nice hors d’oeuvre for the main course of the first half and, perhaps, the entire concert: the Rach 3.

The first half of the concert concluded with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 with Yefim Bronfman as soloist, hence the packed house. Well, all I can say is that it was worth waiting in line to show vaccine status because the audience was treated to a barn burner. It was man against piano, and Bronfman tamed the Steinway Grand throughout 40 grueling minutes. At various points, it seemed as if the piano would crumble under the weight of Bronfman’s mighty hands. But it wasn’t bravado; it was one of the great pianists of our time tackling one of the great piano concertos of all time. 

So many adjectives come to mind about the performance whose conclusion immediately brought the audience to their feet cheering behind their masks. From the gentle notes of the four-note sequence in the opening movement to the crashing conclusion of the third movement, Bronfman’s performance was captivating, electrifying and commanding. Even though the orchestra under Jordan’s expert direction was restrained when it needed to be and the LA Phil players were outstanding in their own right, one could not take their eyes off Bronfman. The entire performance was spellbinding.

As if to calm the unbridled excitement in the audience, or perhaps to give his fingers a break, Bronfman returned to the stage to perform an encore of Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Prokofiev’s masterpiece, the Suite from Romeo and Juliet. Jordan displayed an expressiveness and intensity in his conducting matched only by the expressiveness and intensity in Prokofiev’s score. His movements, while not as smooth and flowing as other conductors, nevertheless pulled the orchestra in his desired direction. The musicians of the LA Phil played, as they always do, at the highest caliber. 

Prokofiev’s lush score combined with the world-class playing by the LA Phil and Jordan’s authoritative direction resulted in a sonically sumptuous experience.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.laphil.com.