Yefim Bronfman makes an ideal partner for Charles Mackerras in Mozart, while Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony was full of menace

02.09.09
Yefim Bronfman
The Times

You can be stimulated, tantalised and seduced by the Mozart of a Robert Levin or a Mitsuko Uchida; but with Yefim Bronfman you feel that the music has just always been there, and always will. So apparently natural and inevitable is every turn of phrase that you feel that at last you've found the concerto and really know it for the first time.

This was very much, too, within the nature of Bronfman's partnership with that veteran Mozartian, Sir Charles Mackerras. He conducted the Philharmonia in Mozart's Piano Concerto No 24 in C Minor with a sense of brooding unease. Poise and patterning were all: Bronfman, playing his own first- movement cadenza, made the work seem an ever-renewing fantasy of variation and transformation. The woodwind soloists, their ears and imaginations already fine-tuned by the opening performance of Mendelssohn's overture, A Midsummer Night's Dream, serenaded sweetly in a plain-speaking and purposeful slow movement. And again, Bronfman's delight in the fantasy of variation made light of the intricacies of the finale.

After the interval Mozart's spirit lingered on. His muse was, after all, worshipped by Tchaikovsky and Mackerras conducted the Sixth Symphony with a keen ear for the clarity of texture, fleetness of foot and almost arioso-like breathing of the divided violins and violas. That, at least, is how it all began. When the storm within the first movement broke, bows tore across strings, and trumpets and trombones put the emotional life of the symphony, and of the audience, on the rack. The allegro con grazia that followed was sturdy in its asymmetry.

What did Tchaikovsky mean by that ear-battering march? I've seldom heard one with less menace, less of the demonic in it. And whether that prepared the spirit better, or less well, for the wrenching death throes of the finale was probably differently experienced by each member of the audience. En masse they stood, applauded and were reluctant to let Mackerras go.