Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bronfman's Islamey is a reading of sweep and majesty. A soul-satisfying record that you'll return to often.
If you've seen Yefim Bronfman perform, you know that he's an assertive, brilliant pianist who commands attention, even in a large hall. The soloist is remarkably successful in scaling back his playing for the 12 modest pieces Tchaikovsky produced for serial publication in a monthly music magazine. Bronfman resists the temptation, for instance, to dazzle with a faster tempo in "The Harvest" (August), which he certainly could have undertaken with one hand (or at least a couple of fingers) tied behind his back. Nor does he look for profundity that isn't there in these unassuming miniatures, or "Chopinize" the more lyrical movements. The well-known "Barcarolle" (June) is played with a straightforward sort of melancholy that's exactly right—touching without seeming overwrought. Still, the playing is eventful and involving, and carefully articulated: Listen to the crystalline clarity of February's "Carnival." Sony provides superb sound, utilizing 24-bit encoding and their "Super Bit Mapping" methodology. The performances were taped at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, in New York State, a celebrated venue that has been exploited by a number of labels. The sonic presentation is warm yet immediate and clear, capturing fully the refinement of Bronfman's touch. I prefer Bronfman's Seasons to three others on hand: Antonin Kubalek (on Dorian, recorded 12 years earlier in the same Troy concert hall), Naum Starkman (on PopeMusic) and, by a smaller margin, Luba Edlina (on Chandos). As though to underscore that he was holding back in the Tchaikovsky, which is quite accessible to talented amateurs, the soloist proceeds on to an echt virtuoso vehicle. Islamev, of course, is for major-leaguers: Do not try this at home unless you are a trained professional. Bronfman gives us quite a ride. The work's considerable technical demands are fairly tossed aside as the pianist presents a coherent musical structure, not merely a succession of pianistic feats. This is a reading with sweep and even some majesty. In comparison, Alexander Paley, leading off his admirable six-CD set of Balakirev's complete piano music for ESS.A.Y with Islamey, sounds dutiful and a bit tentative.
One might grouse about the short timing of this disc. Bronfman could have given us more Tchaikovsky, more Balakirev, more something. But what's the better value: a humdrum 75 minutes or a soul-satisfying 50 that you'll return to often? Not a toughie.
-- Andrew Quint, FANFARE [3/1999]