Yefim Bronfman’s visits to the Los Angeles Philharmonic tend to be special occasions. He played a wide variety of works on the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage, some that stand out in my memory more than others. I was particularly fond of his Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, which seemed to thrive under his muscular, emphatic approach. Considering the works he has performed that I’ve been most taken with, I would not have thought the Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto
scheduled for this weekend would have been among them. But that’s one of the great things about this music, you never can tell. Bronfman’s Brahms was in a word thrilling. From beginning to end, he was forceful but never to the point that it was overwhelming. Both the first and second movements had that perfect combination of effortlessness and bold assurance that is a joyful rarity. Better yet, Bronfman was well matched with Juraj Valcuha in his conducting debut with the L.A. Philharmonic. Valcuha is another young and very handsome young man who has a rising profile and will be making many debut performances with the world's major orchestras over the next two season. This performance for one bodes quite well for his future. Bronfman was well complemented for so many years in his collaborations here with Esa-Pekka Salonen, and this young Slovakian seemed to have a similar musical disposition in terms of both clarity and finish resulting in a performance that was so well integrated that it was often surprising this was a concerto at all.
Valcuha displayed the same strengths in the first half of the evening as well in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1. This is not the most familiar of works for a composer who often suffers the contempt of listeners precisely because of their familiarity. It can also be said that it may not be as satisfying as those same ballets and symphonies. There are some lovely winter wonderland moments in the first movement, however, and Valcuha did his best to make the most of them. He seemed more concerned about clarity and detail overall, and while more could have been made of the Scherzo and Finale, I was very appreciative of this decidedly less overheated approach overall. The evenings where this kind of control and subtlety are a priority are few and far between these days on the L.A. Phil stage, and this is a program not to be missed for those who miss those qualities in our local and beloved orchestra.
Labels: LA Philharmonic 10/11