It is sad and unfortunate how little attention the great trove of 20th-century repertory receives from 21st-century recitalists. To provide some compensation for this habitual oversight—and to reward Wednesday’s (August 13) loyal SummerFest 2014 audience—Yefim Bronfman gave a breathtaking account of two stunning Piano Sonatas by Sergei Prokofiev on the first half of his “Evening with Yefim Bronfman” program at La Jolla’s Sherwood Auditorium.
Opening with the early Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 29, and following it with the later Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82, Bronfman flaunted his stupendous technique while revealing the depth and scope of these rich, infrequently heard, scores. Bronfman’s masterful Prokofiev was powered by an ebullient, visceral propulsion that drove even the slower movements, yet remained so comfortably grounded that every roaring flourish and silvery grace note sounded comfortably placed. For a muscular technique that delivered cascades of clustered notes—the composer’s trademark—his musical line always exuded warmth and polish.
In the C Minor Sonata (1917), Bronfman captured Prokofiev’s youthful, sardonic take on the exhausted sonata form, and his deft coloring of the middle movement’s dark, labyrinthine themes linked the Russian composer to contemporary German Expressionists, about whom he may have know little in those chaotic last days of Czarist Russia when Prokofiev completed his Sonata. It is easy to read apprehension and the tumult of the war raging in western Europe in Prokofiev’s A Major Sonata, completed in 1940, a year before Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. But whether the listener hears in the sonata’s tumultuous fourth movement the clash of warfare or the composer’s droll Lietenant Kijé on speed, Bronfman handled these cataclysmic iterations with uncanny aplomb. My only regret was that his hour of Prokofiev had to end—after all, there are seven more piano sonatas![php snippet=1]
After intermission Bronfman returned with cellist Lynn Harrell and violinist Martin Beaver for a robust, sparkling “Archduke” Trio, Beethoven’s beloved piano trio dedicated to his loyal royal patron Archduke Rudolph von Hapsburg. Bronfman easily dominated this ensemble, providing a graceful, animated account that garbed the composer with the traditional mantle of the Romantic poet. While it would be impossible to fault Harrell’s consistently eloquent phrasing, I found his timbre a bit thin for Bronfman’s expansive sound. Beaver offered a warmer timbre to complement Bronfman, and I look forward to hearing him in music that gives him a more assertive role.