[CONCERT REVIEW] Yefim Bronfman Is A Commanding Force At The Bench With NY Philharmonic

Yefim Bronfman. Photo credit: Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times.

Yefim Bronfman. Photo credit: Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times.

Rachmaninoff’s deeply Romantic symphony envelops the listener while the spirit of Beethoven hovers nearby as pianist Yefim Bronfman performs with the New York Philharmonic, led by Maestro Jaap van Zweden.

During the middle of a bleak January, David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center was filled with sweeping melodies, lush orchestration, inspired lyrical passages, and dramatic emotions.

Yefim Bronfman and Beethoven

Yefim’s commanding presence at the bench could be felt as he performed Beethoven’s youthful second piano concerto. Anyone writing a piano concerto in Vienna at that time did so in the shadow of the late lamented Mozart. Beethoven knew at least some of Mozart’s concertos intimately, and in his B-flat Major concerto he employed an orchestra identical to that required by four of Mozart’s piano concertos of 1784. This is why this particular piece brings to mind a Mozartian feel, even if the handwork doesn’t always sound that way.

Yefim owned the phrasing, and created a world of gorgeous, sensible colors reserved for only the most sophisticated palette. It might have been cold and snowy outside, but inside it was spring once again, even if just for a few moments.

Jaap van Zweden with the New York Philharmonic. Photo credit: Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times.

Jaap van Zweden with the New York Philharmonic. Photo credit: Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times.

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2

When Rachmaninoff composed Symphony No. 2, he escaped from Moscow to Dresden to find more time and space to create. This symphony unfolds slowly with the Largo’s stately majesty, moves on to a brilliant Scherzo, then transitions to an impassioned, yearning Adagio — one of Rachmaninoff’s most beautiful creations — and concludes with a bright, whirlwind Allegro vivace that evokes the sound of bells in its final measures.

It was performed here by the NY Philharmonic, which took my breath away, especially in the third movement. It is as if Rachmaninoff was grappling with his own personal struggles, then found peace afterward. Musically, this seems to come through almost like his second piano concerto, which he picked up again after working on it for years and leaving it on the back burner.

We know that his first symphony was rejected and he was miserably embarrassed by that effort. After time and space, Rachmaninoff fought back and gave us this beautiful Symphony No. 2, as well as many other works.

Maestro Jaap van Zweden is a force and his sound world is carefully elicited from the orchestra. While I love his decisive ideas displayed, I thought the tempi overall might have been a bit on the faster side.

He is still a trophy for New York as the Philharmonic’s new music director, and it will be exciting to see more of his artistry and what he can bring to this genre.

Visit the New York Philharmonic website for more breathtaking concerts.