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Maestros turn in memorable performance

04.16.08
Yefim Bronfman
Miami Herald

Although there was a time when few pianists willingly took on the massive technical challenges of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, today's well-equipped keyboard wizards perform it frequently.

Yefim Bronfman is no stranger to the work and has once again returned to it, this time with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony. Few listeners will easily forget Saturday's once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall.

Bronfman threw off a fast and furious performance several years back, but now he has added considerable depth and nuance to his interpretation. All the necessary fire and brimstone are intact but, partnered with Tilson Thomas, the Russian adds the spark of inspiration to the mix. The conductor molded the orchestral phrases with care and passionate thrust, achieving an ideal rapport. Playing like a man possessed, Bronfman took chances few pianists would attempt in live performance.

Following this memorable effort, Tilson Thomas joined Bronfman for a delicious encore of four-hand Mozart with the main theme of the Rachmaninoff concerto sneakily worked in.

Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet is something of a Tilson Thomas specialty, and his recording with the San Francisco Symphony is one of the treasures of the catalog. Saturday's generous selection of 15 excerpts from the ballet not only provided an opportunity to hear much of the timeless score but also served as a showcase for many of the orchestra's first-chair players. The strings executed rapid passages with great assurance, and the battery of percussion tickled and assaulted the ears most effectively.

Steven Jarvi, the New World's conducting fellow, opened the concert with Smetana's ebullient Bartered Bride Overture. His conducting was assured, exciting and well balanced, and the strings coped admirably with the tempo.