Under the weather, APA prizewinner Broberg shows elan in solo recital

His announced program shortened by a bout with flu, Kenny Broberg still left a sterling impression on a

Kenny Broberg found a place for a favorite, Nikolai Medtner.

near-capacity audience at the Indiana History Center Sunday afternoon, presented by the American Pianists Association.

The 2021 winner of the Indianapolis-based American Pianist Awards Classical Fellowship, Broberg now anchors his professional activity with a teaching position at a conservatory in Madrid. 

Transatlantic air travel from Spain may have triggered the pianist's having caught the bug, moving him to discard Sunday's intermission and lop off two of the three movements of Robert Schumann's Fantasy in C major, op. 17.

It seemed a prudent choice. The Schumann Fantasy is a complex piece; in simplistic terms, you could label the second movement  technically challenging and the third movement spiritually so. The finale has two of those "goosebump city" moments for me – great buildups of tension and release approaching the transcendent. Neither challenge comports well with flu, no matter how well prepared the pianist is.

The first movement ("With fantasy and passion throughout") lays the groundwork for the whole piece, and Broberg's performance of it to cap his recital was tantalizing, yet felt complete in itself, as it had to be, given his indisposition. It carried forward the sensitivity, technical elan and interpretive insight characteristic of everything he played.

Broberg opened with 20th-century piano titan Harold Bauer's transcription of Cesar Franck's organ work "Prelude, Fugue, and Variation," which he also used as a program appetizer at his last recital here. Mozart's Piano Sonata in D major, K. 311, followed, with its light-and-shadow contrasts luminously set forth. Legato touch under Broberg's dependable command lent pastel coloring to the slow movement, and the contrasting sections of the rondo finale were fascinating. In that movement,  a brief, out-of-tempo transition back to the main theme was given the expressive weight of a concerto cadenza, and that provided some well-judged suspense.

For a couple of "fairy-tale" dances (skazki) by Medtner, Broberg drew upon his long-embedded sympathy with this German-Russian composer, a contemporary of the much better-known Rachmaninoff, who like him stood aloof from modernism. (The most honored Russian pianist of the Soviet era, Sviatoslav Richter, shareed Medtner's mixed ethnic heritage.) The energies of folk dancing, sturdily expounded in Broberg's performance, yield in the second piece to a fantastic scenario suggestive of elves dancing. He used it as an introduction to one of Chopin's most searching masterpieces,  Polonaise-Fantasie, op. 61.

It's one thing to say — the sort of thing critics succumb to, and how is any reader to know what it means? — that this was the best performance of the Polonaise-Fantasie I've ever heard. It's quite another to say that it may have been the best performance of it imaginable, at least to me. The tendrils of sound wafting up the keyboard after the initial chords helped prepare the listener for the fantasy atmosphere. In his introductory remarks from the stage, Broberg said he believes that the late-in-life, consumptive composer, an exile in France from his native Poland, "had one foot on the doorstep" when he wrote it. And there's no need to ask: Doorstep to what?

Broberg made the piece a dreamscape throughout, an artful blend of nostalgia, resignation, and an assertion of genius at its most heroic. It was a supremely well-knit interpretation, never a dreadful meandering toward the unknown region beyond life's trials. 

The ominous repetition of dotted rhythms smoothly connected as the piece accelerates toward a ghostly benediction was crowned by a fortissimo chord that Broberg allowed to resonate toward eternity. My guess is that everyone in attendance Sunday can still hear it.


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