American pianist Kenny Broberg returned to Verbrugghen Hall at Sydney’s Conservatorium of music for the last recital on his last leg of his 4 week Australian Tour of NSW and Victoria on the 8th September 2019. Kenny placed fourth at the 2016 Sydney International Piano competition and since then has had much competition success zig zagging the globe and winning the third prize in the fiercely competitive 2019 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition and second place in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2017.
Broberg opened the program with Bach’s ‘Prelude and Fugue in A♭ Major BWV 862’ a familiar piece he played during round 1 of the Preliminaries at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition. The sparkly Fugue and gentler Prelude were delivered with vibrato and technical confidence. Having seen him perform at various stages during the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition from Preliminaries to Finals this young and highly talented pianist has matured and come a long way with his recital performances since then.
Next played was Beethoven’s ‘Sonata No. 31 in A♭ Major Op. 110’ the most warmly lyrical of all of Beethoven’s late sonatas. This sonata is in three movements. The moderato first movement in sonata form, marked ‘con amabilità’, is followed by a fast scherzo. The finale comprises a slow recitative and ‘arioso dolente’, a fugue, a return of the arioso lament, and a second fugue that builds to an affirmative conclusion. Broberg delivered plenty of variations of tones and textures in this piece with almost perfect technique. His final cadenzas played lightly in the pianissimo were really quite exceptional and the pedal work in the final chords although more pronounced did not detract from the significant musical expression throughout this piece.
Next on the program was Chopin’s ‘Fantaisie in F minor Op. 49’. This Fantaisie is one of Chopin’s longest and greatest works. It began with a sedate sombre marching theme with pronounced non-legato playing in the left hand. It eventually plunged into a passionate and virtuosic section which Broberg coped well with chromatic technical brilliance. The many runs up and down the keyboard were outstanding and provided plenty of big ‘piano’ moments. About halfway through the piece the slow and sombre chorale-like section in B major, before the previous section is restated. Outstanding legato playing here. After a short, quiet and sweet statement followed by a final flourish the work ends in a plagal cadence in A-flat major. Lots to love in this piece with Broberg delivering a gripping performance, from the different dramatic twists and turns in the first march to the softer dynamics in the second march and bolder in the third.
The second half of the program opened with Franck’s ‘Prelude, Fugue et Variation Op. 18’ which Franck wrote for the Organ perfectly arranged by Harold Bauer for piano. This provided a lovely contrast to Chopin’s earlier Fantaisie. The beautiful melody shined in the Prelude with excellent musical control unfolding with clarity to the central fugue accompanied by lovely variations throughout the piece. Broberg held the audience in a captive meditative state and this reviewer wished the exceptionally melodic prelude and gentler fugue to go on longer.
The program concluded with the monumental, complicated and long Medtner’s ‘Sonata in E minor Op. 25 No. 2 named ‘Night Wind’’. This sonata was approximately 35 minutes long. In an earlier interview Broberg explained that he was particularly excited by this Sonata declaring it as “one of the greatest Sonatas that we have in the piano literature. It’s not played often because it’s so hard, and it’s a challenge for both the performer and the listener”.
Broberg coped well with the technical demands of this difficult piece. Some beautiful melodies in the first movement and lovely andante section played with seamless crossover between left hand and right hand action in the treble. The relentless pace and far greater technical difficulty continued in the second movement filled with massive free improvisation pushing the expressive resources of the piano to the max. There was little respite for the player and listener and the frenzy continued for this listener at least for 10 minutes too long.
Nevertheless Broberg delivered an exceptional virtuosic performance of this piece where the technical veracity vs the melodic ambitions were deeply challenged.
Much to the audiences rapturous applause the evening ended with four encores with Broberg playing all 3 of Gershwin’s ‘Piano Preludes No.2, 1 and 3’ in that order followed by Debussy’s ‘Golliwog Cakewalk’.
Verdict. An exceptionally lyrical and technically difficult performance beautifully delivered by Kenny Broberg on his last leg of his Australian Tour 2019.