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Emanuel Ax & Yefim Bronfman

  • Piano Duo

Reviews

Emanuel Ax & Yefim Bronfman press reviews

Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman are exhilirating
By R.M. CAMPBELL
P-I MUSIC CRITIC

Fortunately, Seattle has been able to keep tabs on pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman from their youth in the 1970s to their current status in high middle age. That has not been a boring journey, as their joint recital Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall gave ample testimony.


MUSIC REVIEW
PIANISTS EMANUEL AX AND YEFIM BRONFMAN

Benaroya Hall
The two pianists, who came to America as immigrants -- Ax was born in Poland and Bronfman in Russia -- have had distinguished careers that span the globe. It would be hard to find many noted conductors or orchestras with whom they have not performed or concert halls in which have not played. They kept their musicianship fresh by alternating solo careers with chamber music and unexpected collaborations, old music with new music.

Among those remarkable collaborations are their occasional duo-piano concert tours. Tuesday's concert was their third joint appearance in Seattle, part of a 13-city American tour that dominates their November calendar.

The hall was filled with their brilliant pianism, ardent musicality and undiminished virtuosity. Textures were unusually rich and vibrant and details clear.

One of the most striking attributes of their playing together is a powerful sense of ensemble. It would seem the two men breathe together, so close are they in tune with each other, not only in terms of style and sound but also rhythmic impulse. Their dynamic range was huge, their phrasing suave, their shifts of tempo subtle and bold.

The evening opened with Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn and concluded with Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Sandwiched in between were William Bolcom's engaging "Recuerdos" ("Reminiscences") and Mozart's Sonata in D for two pianos (K. 448).

The program had expressive range by virtue of its charm, majesty and wide-ranging bravura. Ax and Bronfman did not short-change the composers or the audience.

Brahms' set of variations is better known in its symphonic form, but its version for two pianos has an air of intimacy that is welcome. Ax and Bronfman, who alternated first and second piano, had a sure sense for the Brahms' tuneful variations, each given their own individuality without sacrificing the coherence of the whole.

"Recuerdos" was composed by Bolcom in 1991. The local boy (born in Seattle, educated at the University of Washington) who made good has long been intrigued by various combinations of high and low art. In this homage to Latin America, Bolcom evokes 19th-century dances. The result is immediate, fun and tuneful. Ax and Bronfman sensed its easygoing allure and played with it.

The Mozart sonata that followed is a different kettle of fish, yet also appealing, gallant and fresh, as well as refined. There is little to disturb a gleeful mood. But the work is more than mere "entertainment," to borrow a word from one of Mozart's most distinguished biographers, it also is sublime. Ax and Bronfman captured this duality with verve and attitude. They made Mozart big and important, but with a wink, too.

Rachmaninoff often appears on their duo programs and so on this occasion it was the two-piano arrangement of Symphonic Dances. The performance was an exhilirating conclusion to an exhilirating concert.

The audience was enthusiastic and rewarded with a single encore -- a Slavonic dance of Dvorak in which the two pianists moved from two pianos to one.