Wednesday, June 23, 2021

APA Classical Fellowship Awards finalist Kenny Broberg puts indelible personal stamp on two Russian works

Once I found a home radio with truer fidelity, I was able to engage with APA finalist Kenny Broberg's full
artistry as the current competition's series of five solo recitals came to an end. It was my debut catching up to the series in Tuesday evening radio programming.

Kenny Broberg started with Beethoven, ended with Scriabin.
WFYI-FM's hourlong broadcasts of the five recitals can be a bit disconcerting, I found out, in the tiny separation they permit between selections. Artistic director and CEO Joel Harrison announces the program at the start; then listeners must be alert to separate each piece from its neighbor. The ear can do this before the mind does. When the commissioned work, Laura Kaminsky's "Alluvion," stepped aggressively on the

heels of a Gabriel Fauré barcarole, I was startled.

Otherwise, the difficulty was purely local for me: I couldn't get a sense of Broberg's qualities during the first piece, Beethoven's Sonata in A-flat, op. 110, because of veiled, anonymous radio sound that made it seem that a machine, not a person, was generating the performance. Pacing, including tempo adjustments, and dynamics (to a degree) could be apprehended, but the all-important matter of touch was almost impossible to discern. Thus, no comment here on Broberg's Beethoven.

I was stewing about fairly covering the recital via an inadequate radio during the Fauré piece, so won't comment on Broberg's performance of that, either. In the kitchen, I found a better radio through which to hear "Alluvion." Here's an interesting thing about competition pieces: Once you've heard them a couple of times, a third rendition can seem commendably clearer and better focused, as Broberg's did. But I have to wonder if my growing familiarity with the new piece may be responsible for such an impression.  

On to Nikolai Medtner's Sonata in A minor, op. 30. A Russian composer of German heritage, the latter affinity was overemphasized abroad, much to the pianist-composer's annoyance. His Russianness was a proud part of his identity, and was recognized as such in his homeland during his lifetime, which extended into the most fraught era of the Soviet dictatorship. Broberg brought forward the Russian feeling of the sonata's anxious, questioning melody. The melancholy behind the relentless energy of the mature Rachmaninoff is adumbrated here, and the recitalist projected a sure sense of it.

The one-movement sonata was succeeded by a more idiosyncratically modernist Russian piece, Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, also a one-movement work. Along with the more familiar Ninth Sonata ("Black Mass"), No. 5 became well-known chiefly through the advocacy of Vladimir Horowitz. I wish Broberg had displayed more insight into the frequent "sotto voce" passages in this work, which are so essential to the esoteric hints characteristic of Scriabin. 

The score is full of unusual directions, asking for "languid" or "caressing" expressiveness, for example. Broberg was up to some of them, none more crucial than the requirement to play "ecstatically" at the climax. What listener can be sure that such emotional projection has been achieved? It sounded pretty much within Broberg's abilities, with all elements of the texture in balance. Especially impressive was the headlong Presto rush in the last sixteen measures. It must seem to sweep everything before it and somehow summarize the restive spiritual searching of the whole piece. Broberg did that creditably.

The end of this week's contest offers expanded chances for in-person access to the finalists' chamber-music and concerto skills. The organization's website has full details. To be announced Sunday afternoon, the fellowship recipient is assured of the APA's wonted tender loving care, including several concrete forms of career boosting.

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