Cleveland Orchestra Brahms Weekend: Concerto No. 2 with Bronfman


By Daniel Hathaway

The program notes mentioned that Johannes Brahms and Hans von Bülow enjoyed programming Brahms’s piano concertos, deciding at the last moment who would conduct and who would play piano. Some feat that, but Yefim Bronfman may top it this weekend when he plays both concertos in pairs of concerts over four days with Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra.

Thursday’s concert was being recorded for a forthcoming DVD, so camerapeople surrounded the stage and occupied the end boxes, while a boom camera craned its neck, giraffe-like, over the orchestra and audience on stage right.

Bronfman played the second concerto on Thursday evening with predictably stellar results. The 40-minute work, completed in 1881 and symphonic in scale and concept, is the work of a composer who has become skilled in the manipulation of large forms. Here, Brahms treats the soloist as an equal partner with the orchestra — perhaps a third element in addition to the strings and the Harmonie (wind section).

Unlike its predecessor, which begins with a long orchestral prelude, the second concerto gets right down to business. A lush horn solo (Richard King) followed by a sweeping gesture from the piano initiates a lively conversation between soloist and orchestra that continues with a rich mix of wisdom, humor and wit through the three successive movements.

Yefim Bronfman has the uncanny ability to play large without stridency, to handle the most delicate passages without losing presence, and to play everything in between with a ravishing sense of tonal color. His technique is up to anything a composer can throw at him, and he made Brahms’s challenges seem like delightful puzzles, easily solved.

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