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From Philip Rothâ€™s novel â€œThe Human Stain,â€ in which the narrator attends a rehearsal at Tanglewood at which Bronfman performs:
Then Bronfman appears. Bronfman the brontosaur! Mr. Fortissimo. Enter Bronfman to play Prokofiev at such a pace and with such bravado as to knock my morbidity clear out of the ring. He is conspicuously massive through the upper torso, a force of nature camouflaged in a sweatshirt, somebody who has strolled into the Music Shed out of a circus where he is the strongman and who takes on the piano as a ridiculous challenge to the gargantuan strength he revels in. Yefim Bronfman looks less like the person who is going to play the piano than like the guy who should be moving it. I had never before seen anybody go at a piano like this sturdy little barrel of an unshaven Russian Jew. When he's finished, I thought, they'll have to throw the thing out. He crushes it. He doesn't let that piano conceal a thing. Whatever's in there is going to come out, and come out with its hands in the air. And when it does, everything there out in the open, the last of the last pulsation, he himself gets up and goes, leaving behind him our redemption. With a jaunty wave, he is suddenly gone, and though he takes all his fire off with him like no less a force than Prometheus, our own lives now seem inextinguishable. Nobody is dying, nobody - not if Bronfman has anything to say about it.
I hadn't heard of Bronfman until I purchased his recording of Rachmaninoff's 2nd and 3rd PCs, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. That was many years ago, and it remains one of my favorite recordings. Despite his large frame, Bronfman is a wonderfully balanced musician, delivering all the power Rach requires, yet displaying great sensitivity in the more lyrical passages. In fact, some of his critics have described his playing as a bit too genteel, but I couldn't disagree more.
I just heard him play Magnus Lindberg's new Piano Concerto No.2. Due to its extreme difficulty, I doubt that many will/could take it on. It was a magnificent performance, though. Here's a short video in which he discusses it.
I never get tired of relating this, because it was, in its own way, one of the more remarkable events in my musical life. Out of decades of going to recitals, the one and only time I ever left a piano recital at intermission was a Bronfman recital.
It was out of sheer disgust. I just couldn't take another minute of his sleep-walking through the music with zero conscious engagement. I don't know where it was, but his mind was not present in the room with the audience.
The only other pianist that I've seen do that for any extended length of time is Hamelin, but at least he didn't vacate the premises while playing for an entire half of a recital.
Every pianist has off-days. Fima is one of my favorite pianists. I've seen him twice playing very different repertoire - Mozart and Prokofiev. He nailed both. The Mozart concerto was part of the most immensely satisfying Mozart concert I have ever been to in my life. And I have very high standards. The Prokofiev was also very good but then his encore was the precipitato from the 7th sonata and that just took everything to a higher dimension.
To me, Fima's artistic interpretation is always spot-on. I love what he does, and I love his repertoire choices as well.
Pianist and teacher with a 5'8" Baldwin R and Clavi CLP-230 at home.
I love Prokofiev--and his recordings and live performances of Prokofiev are excellent. Heard him at Union College a few years ago--program included late Beethoven sonatas--and he did finale from Prokofiev Sonata 7 as an encore! Insane ... but exhilarating, too.