A pianist justifiably acclaimed for bravura, strength, technical resourcefulness and excitement, Yefim Bronfman saved his flashy virtuosity for the end of his latest local appearance, a recital in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday night. He let it all out in Mily Balakirev's preposterously difficult "Islamey," once notorious as the most difficult piece in the piano repertory.
Before that, the 40-year-old Russian-born American musician, who has been playing here regularly since the age of 19, seemed generally, uncharacteristically low-key. He has always excelled in lyric and quiet playing, in thoughtful rhetoric and admirable nuances as much as in the forceful and showy. Yet this performance seemed to specialize in the self-regarding aspects of understatement.
The breakthrough violence and drama in Beethoven's early "Pathetique" Sonata came through muffled and genteel, subtle rather than direct in its details. The slow movement had a thrilling depth and serenity, but the outer movements could have been perfunctory. Schumann's carnivalesque "Faschingsschwank aus Wien," usually a model of outgoing spirits, remained mostly pensive, despite Bronfman's generous dynamic palette.
Instead of becoming louder and bolder after intermission, the pianist retreated even further into himself with nine excerpts from Tchaikovsky's suite, "The Seasons," creating a set of perfect miniatures, exquisitely detailed.
The composer's melancholy, in myriad shades of soft pianistic colors, had to be cherished. Every item became a gem, but in particular "March: Chant d'alouette" and "October: Chant d'automne." Then, finally, "Islamey," a romp for those who can play it--and Bronfman even plays with it--tore up the house, causing listeners to rise out of their seats, cheering.
Two encores, one quiet, one loud, ended the evening in C minor, where it had begun: a sonata by Scarlatti, and Chopin's "Revolutionary" Etude, Opus 10, No. 12.