Dallas — There is something truly beautiful, yet lonely, about a pianist in recital on a big stage such as the one at the Meyerson. The familiar profile of the piano and its player sitting at the keyboard is a kind of artistic purity we rarely see elsewhere. And when the pianist is an authoritative one, the effect can be magical, as happened Monday evening.
Yefim Bronfman gave a veritable master class in musicality in recital as part of the Soluna Festival. He’ll be back on June 2 and 4 to perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Dallas Symphony, so if you missed the recital, you’ll have another opportunity to hear him play. Still, two hours of uninterrupted playing—he never said a word, not even to announce his encore, a Schumann Arabesque—was a delicious musical treat.
The repertoire was an appealing mix of the 19th and 20th centuries, the very well-known and the slightly less familiar. First up was probably the least familiar of the four works on the program, Béla Bartók’s four-movement Suite, Op. 14. Bronfman demonstrated ingenious subtlety here, with carefully shaped phrases and exquisite attention to dynamics. A fun fact about this piece: the second movement Scherzo uses what is probably the only twelve-tone row in any of Bartók’s music.
Also in the first half of the program was Robert Schumann’s Humoreske Op. 20. The piece, though nominally in B-flat Major, is mostly in G minor, which perhaps belies the levity of the title. Schumann wrote this piece in the span of a week in 1839, and wrote to his wife Clara Wieck Schumann about the wildly fluctuating emotions he experienced during its composition. Bronfman reflected these mercurial moods: he instantly captured the first movement’s beautiful, melodious character, then skillfully shifted his tonal colors and phrasing to match the agitated style of later movements. His technically impeccable playing allowed for fullest expression of musical ideas here and elsewhere.
The second half of the program consisted of music surely familiar to almost all listeners: Debussy’s Suite bergamasque, including the iconic “Claire de lune,” and three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka. In more uninspired hands, “Claire de lune” can sound over-familiar, the background music in a fancy restaurant or the crackly hold music while we wait to talk to our insurance company. But under Bronfman’s watch, it was a marvel of beauty and subtlety, with, again, that pinpoint phrasing that no doubt made the music iconic to begin with. In the Stravinsky, Bronfman demonstrated absolute confidence: the big chords of the “Danse russe” were dramatic without banging, and “La semaine grasse” showed Bronfman’s precise sense of time.
This was a musical education disguised as a concert. Monday night might not have been the best scheduling for the recital, since the hall was only partly full. Still, those who were there got a treat.