Last night, Yefim Bronfman played a recital in Carnegie Hall. I sat there, before the lights dimmed, with a sense of anticipation. Critics can be jaded, sitting in concert halls and opera houses night after night. Ho-hum. But a critic can look forward to something that promises to be top-drawer. He can even feel privileged.

Bronfman began his recital with Debussy’s Suite bergamasque—the suite that includes Clair de lune. He is not known for French Impressionism. He is better known for the Austro-German masters and Russian music. And Scarlatti and Bartok and . . .

Actually, he is a complete pianist.

From the first page of the Prélude in the Suite bergamasque, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. His playing was both substantial and Impressionist. He did not mistake Impressionism for wispiness. The Prélude enjoyed its perfect balance. And Bronfman made a variety of beautiful sounds.

If Bronfman had played nothing last night except the Suite bergamasque, you would have had your money’s worth (especially if you had sat in the cheaper seats).

After the Prélude comes the Menuet. In its final measures, Bronfman was neatly, humorously puckish. And then comes Clair de lune. Bronfman began it arrestingly: very, very quietly. You could have heard a pin drop. Bronfman was taking advantage of the extraordinary acoustics of Carnegie Hall. Clair de lune is the most familiar of pieces, yet I heard inner voices I had not quite noticed before. Bronfman did not make them obtrusive; he just let you know they were there. His was a beautiful rendering of Clair de lune—unsentimental but at the same time dear. The suite concludes with the Passepied, which I like a little more piquant than Bronfman played it, but which was more than adequate.

If Bronfman had played nothing last night except the Suite bergamasque, you would have had your money’s worth (especially if you had sat in the cheaper seats).

He moved on to Schumann: the Humoreske in B flat, Op. 20. This unusual, multi-sectioned, misleadingly named work requires imagination, colors, and fingers. Bronfman supplied them, no problem. He gave a demonstration of Romanticism within discipline. And he disguised how hard the Humoreske is, from a technical point of view.

After intermission, he played a single work, a Schubert sonata: the one in C minor, D. 958. Artur Rubinstein loved Schubert, including the sonatas. He said the sonatas were “full of music,” a wonderful phrase. He played them through at home. But he did not play them onstage. He said the public wouldn’t stand for them.

The public stood for the C minor last night, definitely.

Bronfman began it with an announcement—a kind of musical announcement, which made you sit up very straight. His playing in these measures was inarguable. He was all pianistic solidity. Schubert can be orchestral (on the piano, I mean). Oceanic. So can Bronfman, of course. He has the ability to manage music that’s sprawling or unwieldy. He lets nothing get away from him.

During this first movement, Bronfman gave a lesson in legato. Related to that is the observation of line—the musical line. In this, Bronfman was exemplary. Also, he brought out the strangeness of the music. The music wound up being profound, but Bronfman did not try for this profundity—it just was.

When you play the beginning of the second movement—Adagio—you must resist the temptation to get cute. Bronfman was gratifyingly straightforward. Later, as throughout the sonata, and throughout the recital, he demonstrated dynamic control. His fortissimos and sforzandos were never banged (and all the more effective for that). When he accompanied a right-hand melody with his left hand, that accompaniment was as beautiful as the melody. Toward the end of this movement, I thought of an oxymoron: “tender majesty.” That is Schubert—certainly here—and that is what Bronfman expressed.

How can you be holy and dazzling at the same time? Schubert knows how, and his greatest interpreters know how.

The Menuetto, with its Allegro, was smart, limpid, and marvelous. The fourth and final movement was both orderly and exciting. Also, how can you be holy and dazzling at the same time? Schubert knows how, and his greatest interpreters know how.

It is natural for people to pine for the good ol’ days. Yet these are the good ol’ days—our own times are the good ol’ days—in a hundred ways. I will give you a handful of pianists: Volodos, Sokolov, Levit, Bronfman. There are more. Even Bronfman’s hero Gilels, I think, would have rubbed his eyes at last night’s recital.

Bronfman played his usual encore, his go-to encore, Scarlatti’s Sonata in C minor, K. 11. On this occasion, it had the added virtue of being in the same key as the piece just ended. Bronfman played it with extra beauty, extra subtlety. This was unblushingly, beautifully pianistic Scarlatti. He followed that up with something virtuosic and thrilling: the last of Schumann’s Carnival Scenes from Vienna.

Yeah, I’m sorry I missed Hofmann and Cortot. I’m glad I didn’t miss last night.

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