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Serenity That Barely Masks the Passion and the Whimsy

03.25.12
Yefim Bronfman
The New York Times

By Steve Smith

Yefim Bronfman, an accomplished, admired and much-traveled pianist, did not have the best 2011, it would seem. The last time he was scheduled to present a solo recital at Carnegie Hall, almost a year ago, he canceled because of exhaustion. In October he missed an Oregon engagement because of an ear infection, and he fractured a finger during a recital in Berkeley, Calif., that month, causing further cancellations. 

When Mr. Bronfman appeared before a near-capacity audience at Carnegie on Friday evening, you would never have guessed that anything had been amiss. The program, featured throughout Mr. Bronfman’s brief March recital tour, even ended with the piece in which he had sustained his injury last fall, Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8.

Mr. Bronfman opened with Haydn’s Sonata in C (Hob. XVI:50), an elegant product of the composer’s maturity. Mr. Bronfman might once have suited the stereotype of a fiery Soviet virtuoso, but here, concentrated and businesslike, he played with crystalline poise and tact. He brought a compelling tenderness to the gentle Adagio and a puckish wit to the gamboling finale.

A more flamboyant side of Mr. Bronfman’s artistry emerged in a prodigious account of Brahms’s Sonata No. 3, written when the 20-year-old composer bore the weight of being heralded as Beethoven’s heir. Its five movements bulge with a profusion of ideas and passions. Mr. Bronfman made a compelling whole of the work, with insightfully shaded dynamics, impetuous rhythmic flights and, in the two Andante movements, sublime tenderness.

The Prokofiev sonata, in Mr. Bronfman’s hands, was confirmed as a masterpiece of subtle ingenuity, the prim, almost Classical regularity of its stride in the opening movement no disguise for a welter of emotions bared at length. A wistfully dreamy Andante Sognando set the stage for the finale’s controlled fury, culminating in a tone of ambiguous triumph.

Fingers thoroughly loosed by Prokofiev’s climactic tempest, Mr. Bronfman offered further evidence of his technical brilliance and refined temperament in two encores, Chopin’s Études in F (Op. 10, No. 8) and C sharp minor (Op. 10, No. 4).