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Yefim Bronfman on piano was exquisite and powerful

04.14.08
Yefim Bronfman
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Yefim Bronfman is an old-fashioned, powerhouse keyboard virtuoso tempered by an innate sense of musicality and patrician artistic instincts. On Saturday at the Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall, he gave a towering performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony providing glowing support.

Rachmaninoff's mega concerto has attracted many pianists but very few are equal to the task. Bronfman scaled the score's musical peaks with impeccable technique, visceral excitement and throbbing lyricism. For all his formidable power, Bronfman is an elegant pianist. His understated version of the opening theme set the stage for an interpretation that cumulatively built in rhapsodic fervor, culminating in fire-breathing treatment of the clanging octaves in the finger-breaking "Alla breve" finale.

Bronfman made the "Intermezzo: Adagio" the centerpiece and soul of Rachmaninoff's complex opus. Instead of pounding his way through this moody interlude, Bronfman offered exquisite playing of Mozartean delicacy. The contrasting scherzo section was dispatched with sparkling lightness of touch. While maintaining all the music's brooding Russian angst intact, Bronfman never allowed fervor to become bombast. He favored aristocratic restraint, illuminating subtle relationships in the composer's pianistic writing.

Tilson Thomas provided a rich orchestral context for Bronfman's tour de force. Mellifluous horn and flute solos commanded attention. The tricky coda was perfectly coordinated, with soloist, conductor and orchestra exhibiting high-octane precision.

As an encore, Bronfman and Tilson Thomas played a Rondo for Four Hand Piano by Mozart. Sharing one keyboard, the duo clearly was having a ball, playing with effervescent polish and flair. Tilson Thomas even sneaked in the opening theme of the Rachmaninoff concerto in the ornamented style of Mozart.

New World conducting fellow Steven Jarvi opened the evening with a merry romp through Smetana's Overture to "The Bartered Bride." The orchestra was in fine form, with the fugal writing crisply articulated.

A Suite from Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet" was an impressive showpiece for the youthful ensemble. This marked the third performance of this work in the same hall this season. While this version lacked the chamber music intimacy of Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic or the luminous balletic urgency and virtuoso playing of Claus Peter Flor and the Russian National Orchestra, Tilson Thomas projected a vast aural canvas, a veritable tone poem of shifting moods and colors.

The lush, sumptuous love music of the "Balcony Scene" offered gorgeous string playing (particularly from the darkly resonant cellos) with brightly voiced woodwind interjections. Tilson Thomas brought edgy, incisive energy to the "Dance of the Knights," a haunting saxophone solo adding an air of mystery.

Conductor and orchestra were alive to the mercurial changes of meter and texture that mark Prokofiev's magnum balletic opus. The sheer headlong intensity built to a terrifying climax in the "Death of Tybalt," a solemn, dynamic showcase for brass and percussion, played con amore.