All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

2017 Van Cliburn silver medalist makes local debut at Salon Piano Series


Among the things I’m thankful for this year is that I have my own blog site—and that even when I’m shamefully late in reporting on an event, it can still be read and shared.

In other words, I’m apologizing to Kenny Broberg, silver medalist at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2017, and to Tim and Renee Farley of Farley’s House of Pianos, whose Salon Piano Series remains one of the absolute treasures and joys of Madison’s rich musical scene.

November 4 was the date of Broberg’s breezing through a decidedly unhackneyed program that fully displayed a cornucopia of pianistic and interpretive gifts.

Broberg (pictured above. courtesy of his website), opened with the “Prelude, Fugue et Variation” of Cesar Franck, in the apparently well-known transcription of H. Bauer. I say “apparently,” because I had only heard the work in its original version for organ. Frankly—pun intended—I enjoyed the special work more than ever hearing it on piano. In either version, the counterpoint is never oppressively done, and the closing moments ineffably tender. It was a vehicle perfect for displaying Broberg’s opulent tone and sensitive touch. It is no surprise how comfortable he is with the work—it was part of his Van Cliburn program.

Broberg followed this with the Sonata in E Minor of Nikolay Medtner, and I’ll file this work under “glad I heard it once (and live).” Long enough to take us to intermission, the 1911 five-movement sprawl ripples with phrases occasionally (and inevitably?) reminiscent of Rachmaninoff. Broberg negotiated plenty of fireworks in the Allegro, and again brought a nicely understated poignancy in the final movement.

The second half opened in more familiar territory, with the “Children’s Corner” suite of Debussy. Highlights among the six movements were the smoky/gauzy colors Broberg elicited from the 1950 Steinway at the opening of “Jimbo’s Lullaby,” the impressive range of articulations in “Serenade” and “The Snow is Dancing,” and the bounce and bite of the familiar “Golliwog’s Cakewalk.”

The Toccata on “L’Homme arme” (2017) of Marc-Andre Hamelin was composed specifically for the 2017 Van Cliburn competition, as a mandatory work for all the competitors to tackle. Broberg unleashed five minutes of powerful pyrotechnics. (Incidentally, Hamelin is best known as one of the finest pianists of his generation, and will make a highly anticipated local debut with the Madison Symphony in April).

Broberg finished the afternoon with the Three Preludes of Gershwin, notable for the aggressive, almost brusque beginning to the first of the set, and a natural, wistful bluesiness in the second prelude.

Now all we need to do is hear Kenny Broberg with a local orchestra—here’s a public appeal to our local maestros to try and make that happen in the next few years. I’m pretty sure Broberg is busily booked for at least the next year or so!

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