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Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 at 07:01 AM

Well-traveled pianist Yefim Bronfman to return to Seattle

By TOM KEOGH
Special to The Seattle Times

Superstar pianist Yefim Bronfman is no stranger to Benaroya Hall, and when it comes to programming for Seattle audiences, he does like to mix it up.

Uzbekistan-born Bronfman, 54, appeared here in solo recital in 2007, then returned the following year on a dual-piano tour with longtime friend Emanuel Ax. In 2010, Bronfman performed Sergey Prokofiev’s complex, physically demanding (and once reviled) Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

On Monday, he’s back at Benaroya for another solo evening, this time with a program that, he says, “is all about the history of the sonata form.”

On the bill are Haydn’s 1794-95 Piano Sonata in C major, Brahms’ 1853 Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major. Nearly all Bronfman’s touring schedule last March was built around this music, and he is closing out 2012 with several more performances of the program.

“I played it about 10 times earlier this year, and it’s always nice to come back to the same music again with a fresh perspective,” Bronfman says by phone from New York. “You don’t have to worry about some of the things you worry about when playing something for the first time. It’s like going back to an old friend and discovering new things.”

Asked what ties these three works together in concert, Bronfman says it is actually the things that separate them from one another that is illuminating.

“I would rather put together different works than similar ones. It makes a much more interesting program. These sonatas have quite different characters and styles and come from quite different centuries. But they’re each very adventurous and unusual, and represent different stages of the form.”

Haydn, says Bronfman, was the first composer to write more than one movement for a sonata.

“The last movement of the Piano Sonata in C major is almost like an afterthought, a very humorous allegro.”

The Brahms piece was written when the composer was 20.

“It’s a marvelous work by a young genius,” says Bronfman. “He wanted to write something bigger than Beethoven ever did for that form. He wrote a five-movement sonata [in the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor], the only one I know of. It’s very unusual. The five very different movements are held together in a beautiful way because some of the elements come back. There are traces of the second movement in the fourth, and of the third in the finale. It’s a very long piece.”

“With Haydn, the message is very immediate and very classical,” Bronfman continues. “With Brahms, it is much more monumental, a kind of orchestral-sonata form. He wanted to turn the piano into an orchestra. It’s a remarkable work.”

As for the Prokofiev, Bronfman says simply, “it is a three-movement, introspective piece with a lot of novelty. He takes it from sounding very naive to grotesque within seconds, then back again.”

Next year finds Bronfman touring the world again and finding time for recitals, appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber music projects. Among the latter is a Carnegie Hall collaboration with the Emerson String Quartet.

“I like the balance,” he says. “It makes for an interesting season.”

Tom Keogh: twkeogh@gmail.com

CONCERT PREVIEW

Yefim Bronfman

7:30 p.m. Monday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $25-$119 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).


Frank Stewart
Pianist Yefim Bronfman performs Monday at Benaroya Hall.




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