In Uncategorized on 12/06/2019 at 14:55

Again, Seriously Off-Topic

Fans of USTC, read no further. I am in my music critic mode. Please return later.

I wanted to hear Yefim Bronfman again, after the very tiny morsel I got last October (see my blogpost “Music and Moujik,” 10/4/19). He was served in a hearty helping today with Jaap van Sweden and the New York Philharmonic at Geffen, which is far less appetizing than Welser-Möst and the Cleveland at Carnegie.

I haven’t heard enough of van Sweden’s work to see if he has conquered the NY Philharmonic’s limitless helping of self-satisfaction. I think Mitropoulos started this conceit, which has survived even Bernstein and Mazur, and which Boulez nourished. Howbeit, if today was a fair example, he has a ways to go.

He finally caught something of Beethoven’s manner after a finicking, precious treatment of the start of the first movement of Beethoven’s Second Symphony. The first movement ended well, and the second movement almost sang as it should. Unfortunately for me, and showing my age, I remember the second movement for the famous Prohibition-era lament “How Dry I Am,” which cropped up in an Irving Berlin musical, although Berlin never wrote it. Van Sweden managed to get the third and fourth movements well-defined, despite the usual deficiencies in woodwinds and brass. Give ’em a SNOD, says I.

This concert was a matinee for the card-carrying set (I mean the Medicare card-carrying set, of whom I am one). Wherefore it was perhaps appropriate that Steven Reich, now well into his eighties, was shuffled onstage to receive applause for the New York premiere of his Music for Ensemble and Orchestra. Of that piece I cannot say much in a blogpost meant for family reading. It was co-commissioned by six (count ‘em, six) orchestras on three continents; it should be promptly decommissioned. Minimalist music is truly minimalist for me; a very little goes a very long way.

But Yefim Bronfman was his usual self in the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto, although that kind of usual is very unusual. Finally, unlike two months ago at Carnegie, I got to hear him in-person with enough to do.

Great expression: he made the second movement truly tragic, as it is the cry of a suffering soul against the pitiless hammerblows of fate. Beethoven says as much in that five minutes as he did in the famous first movement of the Fifth Symphony. The second movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto is truly the final exam for any world-class pianist.

Any of my readers with elephantine memories may recall my criticism of “the boy lord of the piano,” Benjamin Grosvenor. The boy lord thought, some years back, that thump substitutes for skill. If you’re not already tired of this, see my blogpost “Very Much Off-Topic: A Musical Rant,” 4/21/17.

Bronfman showed today that he could out-thump the boy lord when that was called for (and there’s plenty of good stuff to thump in the Fourth Piano Concerto). But when it comes to expression, the boy lord has a lot of growing up to do.

Beethoven wrote great music for the piano. Franz Liszt wrote great piano music. Shaw said there is all the difference in the world between the two. Bronfman knows this, and can do it.


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