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SPRING THAW

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Pianist Yefim Bronfman’s performance at Bargemusic on April 8 and 10 will also serve as a reunion with Mark Peskanov, the floating venue’s artistic director and frequent violinist.

"Mark is an old friend from our school days," Bronfman tells GO Brooklyn. "And it’s always great to perform with him."

Bronfman and Peskanov, who attended Julliard together in the late 1970s, begin both programs with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, best known as the "Spring Sonata."

"This sonata is one of the most lyrical and yet very dramatic pieces Beethoven ever wrote, and he plays with those two elements in the most effective way," says Bronfman. "Beethoven wasn’t the greatest melodist, but this sonata contains some of his most beautiful melodies."

"Then there’s the drama that he brings to it, one of the most important elements making Beethoven a very special composer," he adds. "Also, this sonata has one of the best interplays between violin and piano, sounding at times like a conversation between two lovers we’re eavesdropping on."

Bronfman feels the timing is right for performing a sonata dubbed "Spring," by an enterprising music publisher.

"The title wasn’t Beethoven’s, obviously, but it’s appropriate playing it this time of year," he says. "Listening to this piece brings in a lot of sunshine, instead of clouds. And after a long winter, this piece will help with our ’thaw.’ It’s good any time of year, but especially now."

After an intermission, Bronfman and Peskanov play Robert Schumann’s E-flat Major Piano Quintet - with violinist Elizabeth Krupnick, violist Mark Holloway and cellist Nicholas Canellakis. At 30 minutes, Schumann’s quintet has an epic quality rare for such an intimate work: he composed it in 1842 as a gift to his bride, Clara, a gifted pianist and composer who played in its premiere.

"This quintet is one of Schumann’s best," says Bronfman. "Chamber music was a focal point for Schumann because it was where he got much of his inspiration. His quintet has the flavor of romanticism and a beauty unparalleled in any of his other music. It’s really a unique piece to play because it shows his fascination with this particular combination of instruments."

Bronfman, who will celebrate his 46th birthday on April 10, has two CDs with fellow pianist Emanuel Ax coming out later this year on the Sony Classical label.

Also on the Bargemusic programs is a work Bronfman doesn’t play - the String Trio by Belgian Jean Francaix (1912-1997), an elegant, beguiling composer whose music, unaccountably, is infrequently performed.

Peskanov calls Francaix’s trio, which he performs with Holloway and Canellakis, "an absolutely gorgeous piece."

"He has a great sense of musical colors and a wonderful sense of humor," Peskanov tells GO Brooklyn. "He has a very particular way of dealing with harmonic and rhythmic structure - you cannot listen to his work without knowing it’s him. He has a unique accent, which is great to hear.

"The trio’s slow movement is so beautiful and sad, but has a serenity as well," Peskanov continues. "The last movement is a little march, and you can hear many characters marching through, some with a limp and others with more confidence in their steps. He always has a little irony in his voice. There’s never an extra note or unneeded nuance - everything is perfect."

Peskanov shakes his head when asked about Francaix’s obscurity.

"He uses odd instrumentation, like in his octet," he says, "so it might be difficult for some ensembles to pull it all together for a performance. His trio is quite virtuosic and calls for a great violist, which we have, luckily [with Holloway]. His music doesn’t have a ’rah-rah’ sound to it, nor does he wear his heart on his sleeve. He’s more tongue in cheek."

Still, as far as Peskanov is concerned, those excuses don’t wash.

"Francaix’s music is so sincere and beautifully written," he says. "It’s unfortunate that you don’t hear more of his work, but we’re trying to change that."

Also trying is the Hyperion CD label, which has already recorded several discs of Francaix’s urbane and witty music. The label’s latest disc of Francaix’s orchestral music, including his Piano Concertino, which is a small jewel, and two ballet scores, has just been released, and is worth seeking out by Bargemusic concertgoers who will undoubtedly want to hear even more Francaix after being introduced to his refined, stylish music.

As for Bronfman, he’s excited to return to the East River barge to perform and, as he notes, sit in the audience for the Francaix trio.

"At the end of the day, it’s like any other concert hall, because they focus on the music," the pianist says. "But the view is the most beautiful around, and I love to go outside during intermission and walk by the water. In that sense, it’s unlike any other place to perform in the world."


Beethoven, Francaix and Schumann will be performed April 8 at 7:30 pm, and April 10 at 2 pm, at Bargemusic (Fulton Ferry Landing at the end of Old Fulton Street on the East River). Tickets are $35, $20 for full-time students. For more information, call (718) 624-2083 or visit www.bargemusic.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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