Standing ovations for superb ‘fill-in’ at Union

Playing on short notice, pianist Bronfman delights audience at Memorial Chapel; 'I had an extra day,' he said
Yefim Bronfman
Yefim Bronfman

Categories: Entertainment

Pianist Piotr Anderszewski canceled his Sunday afternoon concert at Union College’s Memorial Chapel because of illness, yet with barely 72 hours to spare, series artistic director Derek Delaney scored a coup: he got legendary pianist Yefim Bronfman to fill in.

When asked after the concert how he managed to squeeze the concert in what with his prodigiously busy schedule, Bronfman shrugged and said, “I had an extra day.” 

And what a concert. He played three pieces and two encores and despite being on short notice, everything was at the tips of his fingers. Bronfman’s choices also showed another side to a pianist who’s known for his dynamite renderings of works by such composers as Prokofiev, Bartok, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.

Instead, the near-capacity crowd got a poetic, dreamy, introspective and thoughtful pianist with pieces by Debussy, Schubert and Schumann. He was like a master painter whose control of his palette and brushes is exemplary.

He began with Debussy’s “Suite bergamasque.” Each of the four movements carried a different mood and style and Bronfman chose just the right tone to make the most of them.

His superb pedaling gave just enough of a blur yet still allowed for technical clarity. Articulations varied from liquid and seamless to dry and spunky. The famous third movement, “Clair de lune,” was magical with rippling undercurrents and a white sheen to the tone that projected the moon’s silvery light.

Schumann’s “Humoreske in B-flat Major” (1839) got a sensational reading. Although there are seven sections, they flitted from romantic lyricism to longing to playfulness to martial arrogance. Occasionally, Bronfman was forceful with declamatory chords, but usually he sung everything with lovely nuances always supported by his effortless technique. This got a standing ovation.

His final piece of Schubert’s late Sonata in C minor was terrific. Beethoven’s influence could be heard especially in the opening movement’s dramatic statements, but by the second movement Schubert’s quiet elegance set the tone. Bronfman paced the phrases well even as an insistent darkness threatened but never overwhelmed.

The third movement was light and short and the finale was a rollicking tarantella that shifted to Beethovian drama or a quicksilver lightness with lots of scales.

After a standing ovation, Bronfman played as encore a sweet, soft Scarlatti Sonata in C minor. This brought another standing ovation and led to Schumann’s vivacious “Viennese Carnival, Op. 26.” That got loud “bravos” and a final standing ovation.

The last two concerts on the series are: April 12 at 7:30 p.m. with the Artemis Quartet from Germany in a program of Haydn, Bartok and Brahms; and April 27 at 3 p.m. with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in an all-Schubert program.

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