Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No.2
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in C minor K.11
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.4
Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling
rec. in concert, 8 June 1992, Philharmonie, Berlin
Format NTSC 4:3, Sound PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS 5.1, Region Code 0 (Worldwide)
EUROARTS DVD 2057638 [83:00]
This concert was filmed back in June 1992 at the Philharmonie in Berlin. The conductor was the venerable Kurt Sanderling, then 80, and still alive at the time of writing, and approaching his centenary in 2012. The soloist was Yefim Bronfman, then a stripling in his mid-thirties. Together they joined forces for Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto, and what joyful music they make.
Fortunately camera shots are sensible and unobtrusive so we can simply relax and watch the show unfold. And it is a show, in some ways, as Bronfman unleashes brilliant, cascading roulades of right-hand action and detonates deep, stygian Bach-derived bass sculpting such as to draw heated excitement from the Berlin audience, who recall him time and again to the stage. I’m not surprised. I don’t associate him with this repertoire necessarily, but it’s clear he’s a worthy, but very different heir to titans such as Rubinstein. His is a very much heavier, more volatile, determined and obviously virtuosic approach. Rubinstein was airier, more playful. But this is an approach that truly does work, and this passionate, declamatory performance, is accomplished by means of an unflashy demeanour. He receives acute, sensitive and unusually thoughtful support from Sanderling and the Berlin Philharmonic, whose gossamer playing in the second movement is a delight, the winds especially. This is a performance as droll as it is trenchant. And it’s instructive too to see just how much hand crossing there is in this concerto.
Don’t overlook the post-concerto shenanigans. One elderly fiddler in the first violins of the orchestra repeatedly tells Bronfman something as he walks back to take his applause. It doesn’t look like ‘well done’; rather it looks as if he’s giving him advice. Maybe he did, because eventually, after the orchestra leaves the stage, Bronfman returns, sits down and plays an encore, a little Scarlatti sonata, and very nicely - at which point a few of the players come scurrying back to listen. I find this kind of detail fascinating. Who was this fiddler? What did he say? Did Bronfman defer? 
After this we have a Sanderling speciality, honed in Leningrad alongside Mravinsky; Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. He’s significantly slower now than he had been. It’s more of a twilight performance than one straining at the leash, that’s for sure. If you’re familiar with Sanderling’s classic recording, you’ll note just how much more deliberate he’s become: it’s on Documents 223312 (3 CDs), an all-Tchaikovsky release with the fifth and sixth symphonies conducted by Mravinsky. But the orchestra plays very well for Sanderling, and seems convinced by him, and by his authority in the work. He remains spry at 80, cueing with the minimum of fuss, and even directing without the baton in one section.
I enjoyed this DVD very much indeed. It was good to see Sanderling, and just as good to see Bronfman, and the conductor, making great music in the Saint-Saëns.  

Jonathan Woolf 

I enjoyed this very much indeed.