ASO: Robert Spano with Yefim Bronfman

I was disappointed in the first half of tonight’s concert. I have no idea if it was somehow just me, but everything under Spano’s baton seemed sterile. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard Sibelius’ “The Bard” before this evening, so I can’t be sure how it is normally played, but I found myself unable to find any expressiveness in the way that it was performed. I actually bought the ASO’s (somewhat) recent all-Sibelius album and listened to the first half of “Tapiola” on the way home to remind myself that Spano et al can most certainly do more than mere justice to the composer’s music. (This is a great album, by the way, and I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while. If you haven’t heard it, do try to give it a listen.)

Again, this may just be me, but Bronfman seemed strangely delicate on the piano for Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto. That, along with the sterility of the orchestra behind him, turned a normally expansive and exciting piece into a bit of a bore. I couldn’t help but wonder if all of the recordings of Bronfman that I had enjoyed so much on the radio made him sound good through the magic of post-production; his playing may have sounded better if it were made significantly louder. Then again, it may be that I just prefer him for heavier pieces than this particular concerto. It also left me suspecting that what I didn’t like about the way that Spano conducted the orchestra was mostly an attempt to make it fit with Bronfman’s solo work. I wonder if he tends to allow the concerto to inform how he conducts the introductory pieces because I often find that if I don’t like what he’s doing in the concerto then the rest of the first half of the performance also fails to suit my tastes.

After not quite doing it for me with the Beethoven, Bronfman played the hell out of one of Chopin’s etudes as an encore. At least I think that’s what it was. The playing of the piece was more impressive to see done than enjoyable to hear, which is my opinion of a lot of Chopin’s etudes. His performance here made me think that maybe it was just that the light character of the Beethoven didn’t suit his playing style very well that left me feeling less than pleased with his performance.

After the intermission, Spano reminded me that there’s a reason that I enjoy hearing him conduct the ASO. He really brought out all of the adventure, excitement, and beauty of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” I’ve always loved this piece and I really enjoyed the way that it was played this evening. It’s wonderful to hear so many of the musicians shine in the myriad solo parts and Coucheron managed to charm the hell out of us with the violin solos that represented the eponymous character’s story telling. If the first half of the concert left me feeling a little flat, this performance of “Scheherazade” lifted me up and made the evening for me.

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