Zukerman and Bronfman bring sense of discovery to their partnership

Thu Nov 18, 2010 at 12:14 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Pinchas Zukerman

Pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinist Pinchas Zukerman are regular visitors to Chicago, appearing downtown and at the Ravinia Festival in various musical guises—as soloists with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in solo recitals, as chamber musicians. Zukerman, who long ago added conducting to his musical tool box, appears often in the dual role of soloist and conductor with the CSO as well.

It was a pleasure, then, to hear Zukerman and Bronfman together in recital Wednesday night at Symphony Center. They are touring this season as a duo with violin and viola sonatas, and their repertoire Wednesday night was mother’s milk to anyone longing to bask in the music of the masters. The program opened with Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 454, followed by Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 in F Major (Spring). After intermission Zukerman traded his violin for viola for Brahms’ Viola Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 120, No. 2.

Yefim Bronfman

Bronfman, who was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family to Israel and now an American citizen, initially caught the world’s attention as a powerhouse pianist in the grand Russian style. He still thunders through the big concertos with the world’s major orchestras, but he has been able to forge a much more wide-ranging career than that. He works with contemporary composers, most recently Esa-Pekka Salonen, and chamber music has always had a place on his performance calendar.

Chamber music has been integral to Zukerman’s career for decades. Music lovers of a certain age will remember when LPs featuring the very young, very hip-looking Zukerman, Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman and Jacqueline Du Pre were best sellers on the classical charts.

Barenboim’s tenure as music director of the CSO from 1991 to 2006 had its ups and downs, but one of its unalloyed achievements was a steady stream of chamber concerts featuring Barenboim and some of his closest musical friends. There was something unusually relaxed and intimate about those recitals. No one expected the high polish and interpretive depth of long-established ensembles like the Emerson String Quartet. Instead, we caught a glimpse of something more improvisatory, the sparks that can fly when talented friends get together to play a little chamber music.

Wednesday’s concert combined the best of both approaches. This was certainly not a performance on the fly. The balance between instruments was meticulously shaded from the first moments of the Mozart sonata. Bronfman’s piano was an attentive but never pushy partner, providing a genial, dappled undercurrent for Zukerman’s insouciant flights.

But we also had a sense that both artists were discovering new things as they went along. The slow movement of the Beethoven was serenely introspective. Both Zukerman and Bronfman seemed to feel free to dig into their own thoughts, each confident that the other could accommodate their ideas.

In the more mercurial Brahms sonata, the two played off each other brilliantly in the final movement’s theme and variations. Zukerman’s darkly lyrical viola was an ideal partner for Bronfman’s often stormy piano.

The encore, the fourth of Robert Schuman’s Fairy Tales for viola and piano, was a lovely exploration of troubling shadows and delicate light.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment