On Friday morning, the New York Philharmonic played a program guest-conducted by Juraj Valcuha. He works in Turin. Which reminds me: These days, Americans like to say “Torino.” They don’t say “Venezia,” but rather “Venice.” They don’t say “Firenze,” but rather “Florence.” They say “Naples,” not “Napoli.” But for some reason, they like to say “Torino.”
Maybe because of the old Ford? Anyway, “When in Roma,” as the saying goes. And I think we still opt for “Shroud of Turin.” Or has that become the “Shroud of Torino”?
Maestro Valcuha is Slovakian. I didn’t learn this from his bio in the program, because a bio would never tell you something so biographical as where a person is from. I found it online.
He conducted a highly colorful, very well-conceived program. It began with Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta. And where is Galanta? Slovakia. The program continued with a Liszt piano concerto, that in A major. After intermission, there was a Dvorak tone poem, The Water Goblin, followed by Ravel’s assault on Vienna: La valse.
As I said, a highly colorful program, offering an audience musical enjoyment and excitement. Which is no sin.
About Maestro Valcuha, I will write at another time. In this post, I will concentrate on the Liszt concerto and its soloist, Yefim Bronfman.
On Friday morning, he played the way he plays when he plays his best: with intelligence, virtuosity, musicality, and conviction. Or call it persuasiveness. I will get into some detail . . .
He knows how to accent, he knows how to phrase. He has a sure sense of what I can only call “weightedness.” He knows what weight to give to each note. His notes and phrases match. Everything is in balance.
You may not notice when a pianist gets all the weights right; but you may notice that, when the weights are wrong, something’s amiss.
To the Liszt concerto, Bronfman brought elegance and dignity. At the same time, he did not ignore fantasy or even demonism. His passagework was very, very smooth. And he knows how to play loudly—fff—without pounding. Even when Bronfman is bear-like or oceanic, he is pianistic and musical.
At one point in this piece, the cello takes over, like a singer. And the piano accompanies him. This, Bronfman did with modesty and suavity. It reminded me that I once heard him accompany a singer: Magdalena Kozena, in Carnegie Hall. (For my remarks, consult this chronicle.)
Bronfman made the Liszt concerto glittering and wonderful. Or maybe I should say that he allowed it to be. He brought order to the concerto. It was refreshingly unsloppy. But he did not wring the Romanticism out of it. If he had, it would not have been a Liszt concerto.
Honestly, I have never much liked this piece. I do now. I have a better sense of how it should go, really—of how it can be. Bronfman is an excellent servant of Liszt, as of other composers. What more do you want from a pianist?
Well, I wanted an encore: the Scarlatti sonata that Bronfman likes to play after he’s played a Romantic barn-burner. I didn’t get it, though: because the audience did not applaud long enough. Bronfman played no encore.
For years, I’ve complained about encores after concertos. They used to be fairly rare. Now they are practically de rigueur. Soloists play them really without being asked. For once, though, I'm complaining about the lack of one.
Unsatisfiable, some people are.