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Concert Review: Night of FireBSO and Bronfman Fill Symphony Hall With Passion

By Tanya S. Goldhaber

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Schumann Symphony in E-flat, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 4 with Yefim Bronfman, Stravinsky Suite From The Firebird

Friday, Nov. 24, 2006

Symphony Hall

Last Friday’s BSO concert ended with one of the most amazing live performances I have heard in recent memory, of the well-known Suite from The Firebird by Stravinsky. The two other pieces on the program were the rarely performed Schumann Symphony No. 3 in E-flat and the even more rarely performed Piano Concerto No. 4 by Rachmaninoff, performed by renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman. Although Bronfman lived up to his reputation and the BSO played beautifully, one could see exactly why these pieces tend to be neglected.

The BSO performed with guest conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, who showed off a talent for taking advantage the incredible acoustics in Symphony Hall. Especially during the Firebird Suite, he stretched the BSO to the very softest it could play, but the audience could still hear every note, and it was very effective. Burgos also conducted completely from memory, with the exception of the Rachmaninoff concerto, making it apparent that he was very familiar with the piece. His familiarity with the works contributed to the depth and spirit of the performance, and I hope that he conducts with the BSO again soon.

One would be hard-pressed to find a performance of the Firebird Suite done as well as it was last Friday. It was spine chilling, emotional, heart-wrenching, awe-inspiring, and, of course, fiery. The performance was filled with those rare moments when the entire orchestra comes together and seems to play as one instrument. While the performance was not technically error-free (there were some interesting entrances by the horns, for example), mistakes seemed to make almost no difference. The BSO played with such power and passion that any momentary blips were cancelled out.

Earlier in the program, the performance of the Schumann Symphony was excellent, although I found the piece itself unsatisfying. The first movement is passionately frenzied, rushing madly towards the final cadence, and ending in a spectacular euphony of sound. The rest of the symphony is almost unnecessary; it was as if the first movement were an overture to the concert, but audience members then had to sit through four additional movements before getting to hear the rest of the program. Nonetheless, the BSO’s performance of the work was captivating and technically sound. A special mention must go to the horn section, which gave some remarkable solos in the later movements. Where principal and assistant horns played in unison, passages were so clean, synchronous, and effortlessly beautiful that it defied belief.

Perhaps two of the most difficult, but indisputably ingenious and beautiful, piano concertos are Rachmaninoff’s Second and Third. Both concerti are stunning, and emotionally moving, especially when given the touch of a truly great pianist. Unfortunately, the Fourth Concerto, which was performed by the BSO in this concert, can only be described as an inferior amalgamation of the other two.

However, I knew I could not pass up an opportunity to hear Yefim Bronfman in concert, and he does live up to his reputation as a stunning pianist. The sheer number of notes in the Rachmaninoff concertos is astounding, and even the most virtuosic pianists tend to muddle them somewhat. Bronfman, who is also famous for his chamber music, was, in my opinion, as clean as possible, although he probably could have been more in sync with the orchestra, which seemed to be having a little bit of trouble staying together through some of the trickier passages. Indeed, Rachmaninoff is intensely difficult not only for the pianist, but also for the orchestra, who must accommodate the endless series of rubatos for which Rachmaninoff is famous.

Whatever might be said about the virtues of highlighting underplayed pieces, it’s too bad in this case that such a talented and emotional performer as Bronfman was not playing one of the other Rachmaninoff concertos, which would have benefited from his technical finesse and passionate interpretation. Nonetheless, it was still amazing to hear Bronfman perform, and the concert as a whole was very enjoyable.