When I think back on the most impressive SummerFest concerts that the La Jolla Music Society has presented, a 2014 program featuring the Soviet-born, Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman always ranks at or near the top of that list. On the first half of that program, he offered two seldom performed Prokofiev sonatas—No. 4 in C Minor and No. 6 in A Major—a tour de force of bravura execution and insightful interpretation. After intermission he returned with two colleagues to give a rousing account of Beethoven’s “Archduke” Piano Trio.Subsequent Bronfman performances in San Diego have not lived up to the daunting standard he set in 2014, although his astute performance in 2017 of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto on then Music Director Jahja Ling’s farewell concert with the San Diego Symphony evoked some of the thrill of his 2014 Prokofiev sonatas. Given the conventional programming of his atypically short recital Tuesday (May 11) at the Baker-Baum Concert Hall at The Conrad, my expectations did not soar.
On the one hand, returning to the La Jolla Music Society’s beautiful venue after more than a year of absence because of the COVID pandemic was gratifying—a veritable shot in the arm, as it were. And Bronfman’s opening salvo, a muscular, larger-than-life account of Beethoven’s Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 22, suggested that my apprehension was unfounded. When the composer marks a movement con brio or con molta espressione, Bronfman delivers those directions in spades. His whirlwind outer movements in the Beethoven Sonata displayed a slightly aggressive sparkle that never let up, yet he imbued his gentle Adagio with persuasive spiritual aspiration. I admired his graceful shape of the finale’s rondo theme he so precisely contrasted with starker and brighter attacks of the intermittent digressions.
From Beethoven, Bronfman moved on to Robert Schumann’s Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18, a charming, rondo-like piece full of the mood swings that mirror the composer’s mental challenges that eventually undid him. Arabeske is a piece piano teachers regularly assign to developing students to sharpen their interpretive skills, but it is a modest piece that hardly requires virtuoso prowess. Bronfman’s carefully detailed interpretation, however, didn’t reveal anything unexpected about the work.
Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58, does require a heroic technique, and Bronfman gave this virtuoso extravaganza its due and then some. He fulfilled the majestic requirements of the opening movement, spinning out its grand, pulsing themes with a laudable combination of raw power and supple finesse. He teased his audience with the Scherzo’s insistent but gently fluttering moto perpetuo,
Although Chopin marked his Finale: Presto non tanto, Bronfman evidently thought, “Why hold back?” and unleashed the passion of this glorious toccata without restraint. Still in a Chopin mood, for his encore Bronfman played Chopin’s Etude in F Major, Op. 10, No. 8.
This recital was presented by the La Jolla Music Society at The Conrad’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall on May 11, 2021.