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ASPEN MUSIC FESTIVAL 2002

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, No. 2 in B flat. Aspen Festival Orchestra, David Zinman, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano. July 18, Benedict Music Tent, Aspen, Colorado (HS)

 


We all go to live concerts hoping for the magic. You know it when you hear it, when the music lifts itself into another sphere, when the communication between the performers and the audience slips into another gear, when breathtaking beauty occurs before our very ears. It happened Thursday evening at the Aspen Music Festival in the slow movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. Conductor David Zinman, the festival's music director, drew preternaturally hushed playing from the Aspen Festival Orchestra, laying down the merest whisper of chords. Cellist Richard Weiss, who spends most of the year as first assistant principal for the Cleveland Orchestra, spun out the long solo in a magnificent arc while pianist Yefim Bronfman wove a spell of perfect embroidery around it.

To that point, Bronfman's evening was a qualified success. For this concert, a benefit for the Aspen Music School's scholarship fund, he took on both of Brahms' demanding piano concertos. It was the only appearance for Bronfman, an audience favorite at this festival, and the first packed house of the season in the Benedict Music Tent, which seats barely over 2,000. They came to hear a pianist who often puts his formidable technique in the service of collaborative music making.

His traversal of the first concerto before intermission had been workmanlike, a bit heavy handed with the loud pedal, but a solid effort. The second concerto began with more promise. Though horn player David Wakefield, who plays with the American Brass Quintet, bobbled slightly in the opening duet with the piano, here was the first spark of a rapport between individual musicians. In the trio of the fast scherzo second movement you could sense the music starting to jell, One audience member applauded after the scherzo, which drew a quick nod of appreciation from the Russian-American pianist. And then it all came together.

When Weiss got his cello singing like a long-breathed tenor, it inspired Bronfman to his most sensitive playing. When he segued into the finale with its light, skipping opening phrases, he was a different pianist. The notes dropped from his fingers like raindrops on a pond. There was shape. There was clarity. Zinman sensed what was happening and drew the orchestra into the feeling, making the music rise and fall like breathing.

As enthusiastic applause washed over the stage, the first thing Bronfman did was clamber over the conductor's podium to embrace Weiss. The audience clearly appreciated the cellist's work. They gave him almost as riotous an ovation as they awarded Bronfman, whose triumph was complete.

The Brahms piano concertos represent two of the monuments of 19th-century symphonic literature. Some have likened the second concerto more to a symphony than a concerto, pointing to the four-movement structure, its departure from the usual orchestral statement of the themes and soloist's repeat, instead relying on dialogues such as those with the horn at the beginning and the cello in the slow movement. It is a wondrous work, just the sort of thing that can trigger the moments that make concert going worth every bit of the effort.

Harvey Steiman


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