Fort Worth — Pianist Kenny Broberg, Silver Medalist of the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, returned to Fort Worth Thursday night for a recital on The Cliburn concert series at the Kimbell Art Museum, and led his audience through a superbly conceived, brilliantly executed journey from darkness to light.
The program itself was unceasingly fascinating, combining little-known and well-known works in a way that effectively “sold” and underlined the genius of each item. Broberg, 25, is a son of the American Heartland, educated in Houston and Kansas City, but he is definitely worthy of the international spotlight—just like the namesake of this recital series, who also happened to be a son of the Heartland. With this concert, Broberg demonstrated a blazing intellect, impeccable technical skills, and the ability to build a strikingly imaginative and intelligent program.
Broberg opened in the insistently dark B-minor terrain of 19th-century Belgian-French composer César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue, and Finale, a work originally written for organ but skillfully and sonorously transposed for piano by early 20th-century British pianist Harold Bauer. Here, Broberg brought out the unique architecture of this masterpiece of the keyboard repertoire while demonstrating an almost miraculous array of tone qualities.
The clouds became even darker with late romantic Russian composer Nikolai Medtner’s Sonata No. 2, as stormy and exhilarating as its name implies—and, at 34 minutes, one of the most demanding monuments of the piano repertoire. Broberg coolly attacked the hundreds of thousands of notes, and convincingly ranged from the brief moments of lyricism and hints of majesty (including heart stopping dramatic pauses) to an overall dominant aura of doom. Even this jaded critic and veteran of decades in the audience of piano recitals could sense a moment to remember here.
After intermission, Broberg took on another relentless technical challenge in the form of Canadian pianist-composer Marc Andre Hamelin’s Toccata on “L’homme arme,” the commissioned, required work of the 2017 Cliburn Competition. Here, a sturdy medieval melody provides a foundation for every technical trick known to the 21st-century virtuoso; Broberg tossed it all off effortlessly.
Moving into even brighter zones, Broberg once again brought the full scope of his talents into play in Debussy’s beloved Children’s Corner Suite. In the first movement, “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum,” Broberg opened the sly caricature of technical exercises with a deliberate dryness before gradually arriving at effervescent brilliance; deft half-pedaling, a huge variety of touches and technical strategies, and more contrast of leanness and lushness pervaded the rest of the set. Throughout the entire six-movement suite, Broberg likewise communicated the profound intuition underlying Debussy’s eccentric, childlike images, from the lullaby for an elephant to the swirl of falling snow to the audacious exuberance of a carnival cakewalk.
The final moment of an extraordinary recital brought Gershwin’s Three Preludes, with Broberg giving an intense rendition of this miniature musical monument of American spirit and culture, rich in urban exuberance and bluesy rubato. For encore, Broberg completed the journey to full light (in this case, the lights of Broadway), with a gorgeous transcription of Gershwin’s song “Embraceable You,” beginning with a Debussyian river of arpeggios, ultimately flowing into a Lisztian sea of virtuosity.