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Bronfman Strikes Sparks with Philharmonic

by Angela Sutton

Bronfman_philPhoto credit: New York Philharmonic

Tuesday night's concert at Avery Fisher Hall rounded out the first series program of the New York Philharmonic's 2013-14 season with a bang, featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman in his first appearance as this year's Mary and James G. Wallach Artist in Residence.  Before bringing out the star soloist, however, conductor Alan Gilbert danced the first half of the program away with rhythmically complex works of Ravel and Bernstein.

Ravel's virtuosic Alborada del gracioso ("Jester's Morning Song," transcribed from an earlier piano piece) started the evening, featuring a characteristic array of Spanish-influenced cross-rhythms and clever instrumental effects. The orchestra met its many challenges with verve, and conveyed its cockeyed sense of humor.

Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story followed in another taut performance from the Philharmonic players. Thoroughly recomposed from the musical's numbers, this work explored transitions in great detail, elaborating thematic connections between the familiar show tunes and placing them in a new orchestral context. Broadway showmanship hung around, however, with fingersnapping from the violins and brash beats from the perucssion. Gilbert clearly enjoyed himself, conducting while hopping around the podium with moves that owed as much to Arthur Fonzarelli as they did to Arturo Toscanini.

In the familiar Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 that finished the evening, the orchestra lost some of its remarkable first-half cohesion, but this hardly mattered when they were backing up Bronfman. This work plays to Bronfman's strengths—power, rich sound, and rock-solid technical security. The pianist displayed a determination to project every note, no matter how short, and thereby developed real clarity across the whole range of the keyboard.

Lyricism is not perhaps Bronfman's forte, but that work belonged here to the orchestra. Although Tchaikovsky gave the piano fistfuls of filigree, which Bronfman fleetly rendered, the truly stunning passages were the astonishing chordal cannonades the pianist unleashed throughout the work—each one more powerful than the last, drawing on huge reserves of strength that carried Bronfman to the close.

Bronfman returns to the Phil in early January for a reprise of Magnus Lindberg's Concerto No. 2, premiered at Avery Fisher Hall by the same forces last spring.