Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mighty Thirds

Due to Pugtona weekend, I had to hear the last performance of the 2005-2006 Kansas City Symphony season at the Sunday matinee at Yardley Hall in Overland Park, KS. Newer and more sterile than the lovely Lyric Theatre, Yardley has some excellent acoustics but lacks the charm and elegance of the Lyric.

But of course I had to hear the last concert (in this case the very last) featuring two monumental 3rds; Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto # 3 and Beethoven's Symphony # 3 "Eroica". The brilliant Yefim Bronfman was soloist for the Rachmaninoff.

Written for his own use in a 1909 tour of the US, Rachmaninoff's 3rd has acquired an almost mythic reputation. Fueling the reputation was the 1996 movie "Shine" which tells the true story of pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in institutions. The movie insinuates that Helfgott's obsession with the 3rd contributes to his mental breakdowns as he tries to grasp the scope and complexity of the piece.

It seemed not to faze Bronfman. Bronfman performed with breathless excitement that never boiled over in to histrionics. Through his effortless phrasing and command of the piano, he made the piece look easy. For example the opening theme emerged solid but easy and natural. Paul, our musical letter carrier, described the return of the theme at the end of the movement as "a meditation". Bronfman avoided the flashy technical display that the current generation of wunderkind pianists love. Rather than a flashy, barely containable Ferrari, Bronfman assumed the guise of a suave, sophisticated and awesomely powerful Mercedes-Benz V-12. You could see the piano quake under his command. Simply a revelation and a performance I will never forget.

The orchestra wisely provided a sophisticated, solid support showcasing the extraordinary piano part. Sadly, I did not hear the piece performed on the new Steinway, as she stays at the Lyric. Yardley's piano was just a bit brittle but did not detract from the performance. The audience at the sold out performance cheered as Bronfman playfully tried to steer the cheers towards Stern and vice-versa.

Beethoven’s “Eroica” was the second half of the program. A solid, exciting performance, showcasing how far the orchestra has come in the last year. The winds were great; the horns in the trio of the scherzo were heroic and well focused. The orchestra was more polished and fuller sounding than ever before. Not a performnace that would knock the legendary Szell performances off a shelf, but an assured exciting performance that would hold its own among contemporary performers.

What an exciting season. When the whole town is talking about the symphony. When 40,000 come to hear a free concert. When we hear giants like Leon Fleisher and Bronfman perform. New pieces, a new recording. Can next season start tomorrow? Please??

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