Giorgio Koukl | 25 JAN 2021
On Sunday, Spivey Hall presented pianist Kenny Broberg in a prerecorded streaming-only recital followed by a very interesting live Q&A session with Sam Dixon, Spivey’ Hall’s executive and artistic director. It was an appealing program with a surprisingly elegant mix of Weber, Medtner, Chopin and Scriabin, including also a short Barcarole written by the pianist himself.
The rendering of the Sonata No. 4 in E minor, Op. 70 by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), a not very often played piece, with its four movements (“Moderato,” “Menuetto: presto vivace e energico,” “Andante, quasi Alegretto,consolante,” “Finale: prestissimo”), showed immediately the natural sonic elegance of the pianist, his great, even exceptional, range of dynamics and a well-defined attention to the accentuation of single voices. Broberg is in command of a very advanced error-free technique, particularly impressive in the second movement with its left hand octaves played “gettato.” The whole Sonata, over 30 minutes long, ends with a quite typical “salonmusik” style 4th movement.
From Nikolai Medtner’s Skazki, often translated from Russian language as “fairy tales,” but it may be better simply called “tales,” we heard the three works of opus 26: “Allegretto frescamente,” “Molto vivace-quasi tarantella,” “Narrante a piacere” and the first one of Opus 20: “Allegro con espressione.” Here Broberg was immediately in his real element, perfectly capable to interpret the authentic Russian style. This would have been perfect for any Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, but in my opinion he didn’t catch fully the somehow ironic, iconoclastic spirit of Medtner. The romantic passages were played romantically, using even the little bit old-fashioned technique of not playing right and left hand perfectly together, which would serve well Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, but could be a dangerous thing for a pianist today.
The brilliant passages were played extremely well, yet the impression of unity didn’t produce an overall sense of humor and desecrating irony one would expect from Medtner’s work. In other words, here the pianist could dare far more. That he is able to do so was immediately clear in the next piece: Broberg ‘s own Barcarole, one of his first attempts to compose. As the young pianist candidly and in a rather sympathetic manner explained in the Q&A session following the recital, he is very much influenced by the music he is studying right in the moment of composing. Well, he has written a well made “d’ après” Medtner with a shot of jazzy elements, pleasant and rather interesting. Here, in his interpretation he was far more free, a way of playing that would have been perfect for all the previous pieces.
Frederic Chopin and his Polonaise fantasie opus 61 in A♭ major followed. Again speaking about interpretation, Broberg explained during the Q&A that he is not enthusiastic about playing Chopin as many people have their own strong expectations about “the one and only way to play Chopin,” which is quite a hindrance to some new interpretation. Anyway, his version was quite a free one, with lots of rubati.
The last and most difficult piece followed: Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 in F-sharp major. From the ten existing sonatas this single movement work, written in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1907, is the most often played. It represents surely a breakthrough in Scriabin’s production, following immediately his master work: <Le Poème de l’extase.
The composer was then heavily influenced by the Theosophical movement. Sviatoslav Richter, who is in my opinion still the best interpreter of the sonata, used to say that this is the most difficult piece written for piano. One may disagree and name Skalkottas or Jean Moreau Gottschalk, not to mention the piano piece by Boulez, but it is a pretty scary sonata to play.
Broberg played it with breathtaking virtuosity, his own style quite different from previous interpretations, but absolutely fine and well anchored in the Russian tradition.
This young pianist seems to have most of the qualities a pianist needs to succeed in his career: he already has an excellent technique, he is naturally elegant in touch.
Maybe Mr. Dixon gave him a precious hint about how to proceed with his career when asking about his cooking skills. Maybe learning how to combine better the ingredients he already possesses, in order to obtain a harmonious whole, where all elements logically complete each other, would be the best way to proceed. ■