Singapore Brahms, Rachmaninov: Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui (conductor), Yefim Bronfman (piano), Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, 11.7.2014 (RP)
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83
Sergei Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Yefim Bronfman cuts an imposing figure on stage. His playing is even more monumental, marked by intensity, color and depth, well suited to Brahms’ second piano concerto. Much has been written about the work, the technical demands placed on the pianist, the equal balance between orchestra and so forth. All true, but in this performance Bronfman came out on top.
The orchestra, under the baton of Lan Shui, Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SS0), performed well, just on a different level than Bronfman. Individual contributions stood out. The opening horn call, played by Associate Principal Horn Marc-Antoine Robillard, justly merited the solo bow he was accorded. The lower strings were forceful and precise in the fugal passages in the dramatic second movement. The emotional and lyrical highpoint was the interplay between Principal Cellist Ng Pei-Sian and Bronfman in the third movement. They shared a heart-rending melody which became more beautiful and expressive with each repetition. The two embraced in a bear hug to rapturous applause during the bows.
Bronfman was in his element in the complex, chromatic, dense passages of the concerto, especially the dark scherzo. His playing can be lyrical, as evidenced by the melodic passages in the third movement, but it is his power and intensity that leave the lasting impression. Bronfman rewarded the audience’s enthusiasm with two encores. Their relative simplicity and clarity brought a welcome sense of repose going into the intermission.
Rachmaninov’s driving, kaleidoscopic Symphonic Dances closed the concert. It was the orchestra’s turn to shine. The first movement’s extended, plaintive saxophone solo played by Tang Xiao Ping, the SSO’s Principal Clarinetist, was accompanied by the shimmering, transparent playing of the strings. In the concluding dance, after the various bits of musical themes had coalesced into the Dies Irae theme, Shui brought the dynamic level to a mere whisper. What followed was a whirlwind of sound that climaxed with a controlled explosion enlivened by brilliant trumpets and forceful tympani – a rousing conclusion to a fine concert.