Kenny Broberg, a prizewinner from the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition, gave a superb recital on Wednesday evening at the Melbourne Recital Centre in a program that ended with the massive “Night Wind” Sonata by Medtner and which also contained significant works by Beethoven, Chopin and Franck.
The audience in the Primrose Potter Salon sits fairly close to the performer and from this vantage point, it is a profound reminder for this reviewer how incredibly taxing these solo recitals are for the pianist. Starting the recital with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A-Flat, BWV 862, from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Broberg gave a performance that contrasted the playful Prelude with the more intensely emotional Fugue, the latter being a precursor to the Romantically-visioned version in Beethoven’s Sonata in A-Flat, Op 110, which followed. This piece has an expansive first movement, full of fleeting moments of contemplation, lyricism, and delicate piano writing that is difficult to keep in context with the whole. Its structure is straightforward enough but it is a sonata that sounds more to the listener like a fantasy. Broberg was able to find an inspiring balance between these elements. The coda was very touchingly played along with a fiery account of the second movement that nonetheless could’ve had even more of the virtuosic devil in its delivery. In the introductory moments of the finale, one could sense and feel the impact of this music on Broberg and the progression from the suffering of the aria through the various stages of searching through the Fugue, and then to the triumphant coda, this was finely controlled playing with a sense of direction from first note to the end.
Next on the program was Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor, Op 49. This is a strange piece because not withstanding its title, it has a very basic structure and is really more a written out sonata that has an introduction, a written out exposition and repeat, a development section that is highly condensed and behaves like a separate character piece, a recapitulation, and then an abrupt coda. Saying all this, it’s a sonata that has super-charged emotional elements. It is Chopin that comes closest to Liszt in its grand gestures and to this end, Broberg gave once again a gripping performance, full of dramatic twists and turns. There was no shortage of big moments and poetry also in the lyrical digression.
After interval, there were two works beginning with Harold Bauer’s arrangement of Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variations, Op 18. This arrangement was very grateful and effective and in Broberg’s hands, Franck’s beautifully rich and nuanced material was perfectly transformed to the piano. Broberg unfolded, with clarity, the central fugue and delivered a beautiful conclusion to the variations, which this reviewer wished had gone on for longer, such was the quality of Franck’s writing. The same could not be said of Medtner’s “Night Wind” Sonata, which was given perhaps the most committed, virtuosic and thunderously emotional performance of the evening. This was, for this reviewer, the most captivating playing by far with Broberg seemingly at home in the manic tangle of Medtner’s emotional fire. There was something attractively uncontrollable for thirty or so minutes and even as Medtner’s structural canvas went on for at least ten minutes too long towards the end, perhaps it’s only in the infrequent performances of this work that we find it hard to struggle with the fragmented content of the last half.