Music review: Yefim Bronfman in solo recital debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall

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Pianist Yefim Bronfman’s solo recital debut on Wednesday at Walt Disney Concert Hall had everything. Everything, that is, except the scheduled premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s “Humoreske,” a short piece as yet unfinished. Though it would have added an interesting contemporary gloss on the program’s central work -- Schumann’s own expansive “Humoreske” -- it was hardly missed, given the towering accounts Bronfman gave of that score and major works by Haydn and Chopin.

Opening with Haydn’s Sonata in C major, Bronfman set the evening’s tone by combining relaxed and unaffected virtuosity with an engaging poetic inwardness. The Allegro was crisply articulated, the exquisite Adagio full of nuances. Most delightful of all, in the concluding Allegro he was alert to the humor in Haydn’s abrupt modulations and rolled chords.

Schumann’s “Humoreske” -– six connected pieces with an epilogue, lasting about half an hour -- can seem too improvisatory for its own good in less than the most creative hands. But Bronfman’s beautiful reading found the delicate and dramatic heart of the work’s contrasting moods and themes, allowing a cumulative balance to emerge between them.

After intermission, the pianist gave exhilarating renditions of Chopin’s Twelve Etudes, Op. 10. Here the sensitive musician and fearless virtuoso met on a very high level. Highlights included his breathtaking agility and velocity in No. 4, the buoyant suppleness of his “Black Key” Etude (No. 5) and the controlled fury of his concluding “Revolutionary” Etude, which brought the audience to its feet.


Bronfman’s two encores underlined both sides of this remarkable musician: an eloquent reading of Schumann’s ruminative “Arabeske,” and a charming version of Liszt’s diabolical showpiece, the Paganini Etude No. 2.

-- Rick Schultz