Thursday, May 6, 2004

Concerto 'like symphony for piano'



By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Grammy-winning pianist Yefim Bronfman, 46, has recorded all five piano concertos and nine sonatas by composer Sergei Prokofiev, for Sony Classical. He spoke to us about Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, which he performs this weekend with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Degree of difficulty: "It's definitely the most difficult of the five, in my opinion. In a way, it's the most daring of the five concertos, because (the composer) takes the piano to the next stage of the pianist's ability.

"The fact that there are four movements - it's like a symphony for the piano.

"On the other hand, it's a very beautiful piece. It begins almost like a Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff melody that becomes much more modern, and much more daring.

"The second movement is a crazy scherzo. That's the only movement where the piano and orchestra are equal partners.

"The first and last movements have substantial cadenzas for piano solo; the first is one of the most difficult passages ever written for the piano. (laughs) But, beneath it all, it's very deep, and in a way, a very tragic piece. It's in G Minor - which is the only minor-keyed concerto by Prokofiev.

The contrasts: "I think that the contrasts are amazing. I'm not surprised when people say that when (Stravinsky's) The Rite of Spring premiered, there was a riot. I think when this piece was played for the first time, there probably was a riot, too. Because, composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky decided, 'we're going to rebel against the romantics and classics, and do something new, and here it is.'

"The last movement has one of the most beautiful themes ever written, where you can almost hear a Russian choir singing in polyphony. So it's a juxtaposition of lyricism and barbarism."

What are its challenges for you?

"Every movement has a challenge. The first movement has this incredibly difficult cadenza. You have to have a lot of endurance and strength, to make sure that you don't lose it.

"The second movement has dexterity difficulty - you have to play very fast, some of the most wretchedly difficult passages.

"The third movement is a kind of march, but with incredibly uncomfortable jumps and it's just a question of coordination.

"The last movement is probably the most difficult, because in the difficult passages, you have melodies you have to bring out."

You're making me tired hearing about it.

"I'm even more tired practicing it. On the other hand, if you practice it too often, you might lose the freshness of it. I keep a large repertoire, because it keeps the music fresh and every piece that I play, I learn something new."

If you go

What: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano

When: 7:30 p.m. today; 11 a.m. Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Music Hall

Free dinner buffet: Today, starting at 6:15 p.m.

The program: Lutoslawski's Symphonic Variations; Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2; Beethoven's Symphony No. 7

Tickets: $13.75-$56.75; 381-3300 or www.cincinnatisymphony.org

E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com




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