A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Yefim Bronfman / photo courtesy of LA Phil

On Jan. 30, Yefim Bronfman performed a program in Walt Disney Concert Hall that included two formidable piano sonatas by Brahms and Prokofiev.  Given Bronfman’s commanding technique and impressive physical build, one might have expected a Herculean display of power and strength.

While there was certainly plenty of intensity and virtuosity in his performance, Bronfman most captivated the audience with his gentle lyricism and the restrained beauty of his playing.  On this night, Bronfman transformed the vast confines of Disney Hall into his private living room, inviting the audience into his intimate inner world.

The evening started with Brahms’ Third Piano Sonata, an extended piece consisting of five movements. The first movement juxtaposes majestic upward-sweeping gestures with a series of more subdued but ominous themes.  Bronfman played this movement with vigor and energy, triumphantly bringing it to its major key conclusion.  The second movement, the emotional center of the sonata, evokes lovers in the moonlight.  It was beautifully and gently rendered and kept the audience spellbound with its ethereal pianissimo passages.  After the Scherzo, the love themes of the second movement return in the Intermezzo fourth movement, now pitted against unsettling harmonies and abrupt melodic interruptions.  Here, Bronfman held the audience in quiet suspense, granting them resolution only toward the end of the energetic finale.

The sensitive side of Bronfman’s playing continued to come out in his exquisite rendering of Schumann’s delicate Arabesque, which bore a lyrical but restrained tone throughout.

As the final piece before intermission, Bronfman delivered the world premiere of Sisar, a short piece by Esa-Pekka Salonen that alternates – sometimes rapidly – between manic bouts and calmer and more pensive moments.  Here, Bronfman tackled the technical and expressive demands of this piece with ease.

Bronfman’s performance of Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata, which comprised the second half, was the clear highlight of the concert.  A masterful interpreter of Prokofiev, Bronfman fully brought out the intrigue and mystery surrounding the entire piece.  The first movement began in a somewhat serene mood, but quickly entered unstable territory with its shifting harmonies and fleeting running passages.  The second movement – marked Andante Sognado, or dreamy – offered a brief respite from the uneasiness of the first; Bronfman, using his exceptional command of tone color in the pianissimo range, managed to convey a reflective, even mystical mood here.  The motoric last movement brimmed with energy until the very end, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and prompting a prolonged standing ovation.

Bronfman concluded the concert with an encore of Chopin’s Etude in F major, Op. 10, playing its running notes with a feather-light touch and its melody with a warm but gentle lyricism.  Its four concluding chords, soft and understated, were perhaps a fitting conclusion to a performance that matched the grandeur of Disney Hall, but had the intimacy of a chamber recital.

—Hao Yuan Kueh, Culture Spot LA

For information about future concerts, visit www.laphil.com.