Yefim Bronfman is known far and wide as a pianist who relishes a tough workout, whether in one of the established monster pieces of the past or some newly concocted obstacle course by Esa-Pekka Salonen or Magnus Lindberg. But as in strenuous athletics, things can happen.
It happened to Bronfman last October in Berkeley when, while winding up Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata, he broke a finger – every pianist’s nightmare. He was forced to cancel his concerts a few days later with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Yet the resilient Bronfman was back in action sooner than predicted, even staring down the same Prokofiev sonata again at Carnegie Hall last March. And he came to the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night armed with Brahms’ big, bad bear of a Second Piano Concerto, itself known to have caused physical problems for some pianists.
If there was any trepidation, any caution while dealing with some of those massive hand-stretching chords, leaps and octaves, Bronfman didn’t let on. His huge metallic bass sound thundered as always, with sharp accents emphasizing key points. He could also melt into the orchestra with lyrical delicacy, and cellist Tao Ni supplied a subdued, understated, always musical solo obbligato in the third movement.
Resident Conductor Lionel Bringuier kept things moving along for Bronfman, getting the Philharmonic to whip up some convincing thunder of its own in the Scherzo. They brought the whole thing in at just under 45 minutes, a bit on the swift side these days and thankfully free of self-conscious drift, holding our attention at all times.
Bringuier also had the Philharmonic responding alertly in Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” – full of rambunctious energy and mischief, dancing with life whenever emerging from a contemplative variation, centered by a straight-forward, flowing Nimrod variation that drew applause in mid-piece.
With the Philharmonic entering a two-week stretch of nothing but core 19th century repertoire after three weeks of more unusual programming on Classical Tuesdays and Thursdays, Bringuier and Bronfman kept the midsummer Bowl doldrums away for at least a day.