Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


WGBH Radio WGBH Radio

Kenny Broberg - Sonatas By Medtner, Rachmaninov, Scriabin

Release Date: 01/06/2023
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30198
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov ,  Alexander Scriabin ,  Nikolai Medtner Performer:  Kenny Broberg

Kenny Broberg, one of the most decorated and internationally renowned pianists of his generation, debuts on the Steinway & Sons label with a program of virtuosic music by Medtner, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Broberg has been lauded for his inventive, intelligent and intense performances.

Album Credits:
Recorded November 1, 2021 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel Shores
Assistant Engineer: Joshua Frey
Mixing and Mastering Engineer: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Artist Liaisons: Vivian
Read more Chiu, Rosalie Burrell
Photos of Kenny Broberg: Lee Clifford and Polina Osherov
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Piano: Steinway & Sons Model D #590904
Piano Technician: John Veitch

R E V I E W S:

"Everything [Kenny Broberg] performs is Russian and from the early 20th century, so this disc has a cohesiveness that enables Broberg all the more effectively to differentiate among the specific pieces and their composers. Broberg plays the second (1931) version of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2, and clearly relishes the dramatic elements of the work, which stride forth with power here and form a very strong contrast with the more-lyrical sections – which, however, sometimes get short shrift by comparison. One key to effective performance of this sonata is appreciation of its unifying elements, with portions of the first and second movements reappearing in the third; and Broberg is clearly aware of this, playing in a way that allows the sonata to sprawl (as it sometimes does) while still communicating its foundational structure. Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5 dates to 1907 (the original version of the Rachmaninoff is from the same time period: 1913) and is the composer’s first in a single movement. Its very considerable technical difficulty appears to pose no challenge to Broberg, and its highly compressed form fits Broberg’s interpretative skills even better than does the much-more-expansive Rachmaninoff. The musical complexities are quite evident in this reading, coming across not as virtuosic per se but as necessary to communicate the sonata’s underlying ideas. Nikolai Medtner’s vast “Night Wind” sonata, the second of the 14 he wrote, dates to 1911 and is on an even larger scale than Rachmaninoff’s, which is really saying something. It is a two-movement work whose 18-minute first movement is in 15/8 time – possibly the longest-lasting piece with that time signature ever written. As Rachmaninoff did, Medtner establishes linkages within the sonata that create an underlying unity, but the sensibility of Medtner’s work is quite different: the first movement is in sonata form, with a recurring triplet figure at the opening that becomes a unifying feature of the movement itself and the whole sonata – while the second, 15-minute movement is in effect an improvisation-like fantasia based on the first movement’s introduction. This is not only a difficult work to play but also a difficult one to hear, because it is so big, so complex and so unremittingly forceful. There are flashes of beauty throughout, but the main impression of the music is one of unrelenting drama. Broberg is at his best in the sonata’s headlong sections, seeming impatient in its slower and more-reserved elements to get back to all the intensity. He carries the work forward with admirable attentiveness to its moods throughout, and takes the very unusual label of the second movement to heart: Allegro molto sfrenatamente (“fast and very dissolute”). This is an exceptional sonata that is heard less often than it deserves, likely because of its prodigious technical and emotional difficulty – Broberg’s highly impressive performance makes a very strong case for the best pianists to undertake it more frequently. The CD concludes with another Medtner work as a short encore: Danza festiva, which is No. 3 from the composer’s eight Forgotten Melodies, Op. 38. Dating to 1918-1920, this modestly scaled little work contrasts strongly with everything else on the disc: it is unassuming, pleasantly rhythmic, possessing its share of virtuoso elements – but with a clear intention to entertain above all. In Broberg’s performance, it does that very well indeed.

-- Infodad

Kenny Broberg scales some considerable mountains on this stellar contribution to the Steinway & Sons label. The 2021 American Pianists Awards winner tackles sonatas by Sergei Rachmaninov, Nikolai Medtner, and Alexander Scriabin, the latter's Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 sometimes described as one of the hardest pieces ever written for piano. That Broberg was drawn to include it on the album for that reason (among others) says much about the pianist's intrepid nature. He began piano lessons on his family's upright when he was six years old and after playing through his high school years studied at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music and Park University in Parkville, Missouri. Last fall, Broberg joined the Reina Sofía School of Music in Madrid as Deputy Professor of the Fundación Banco Santander Piano Chair. Six years ago, he was awarded the silver medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and two years later a bronze medal at the 2019 International Tchaikovsky Competition. Other awards crowd his mantlepiece, making him one of the most highly regarded pianists of his generation.

His formidable technique is put to the test by the at times tumultuous and turbulent material on the album. It's not overstating it to say that its pieces aren't for the faint of heart and include passages that pose a challenge to even the most accomplished pianist. That the seventy-minute album was recorded in but a single day, in November 2021 at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Virginia, testifies to Broberg's stamina and ability.

A work Rachmaninov began writing in Rome and completed at his Ivanovka country estate, the set-opening Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 (1913) is in three parts, the first aptly designated “Allegro agitato.” The restless movement establishes its towering presence quickly, though balances its lofty declamations with shimmering runs, lyrical expressions, and serene passages. Regardless of the character of the music in play, Broberg's assured execution and acute sensitivity dazzle. Marked “Non allegro-Lento,” the enrapturing central movement offers an enticing six-minute shelter from the storm, after which the closing “Allegro molto” fluidly oscillates between gentle and tempestuous episodes.

A single-movement piece the composer wrote in three or four days in 1907, Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 begins with a fragile introduction before blossoming into an ecstatic expression. Text accompanying the sonata reads, “I call you to life, mysterious forces!,” words that suggest creative energy rising from the unconscious depths to the surface, much as the material did for Scriabin more than a century ago. Occasionally pensive and contemplative, the work palpably conveys that sense of emergence in the numerous declamatory moments that erupt during the twelve-minute performance.

Whereas Scriabin's is, as mentioned, thought to be as one of the most difficult pieces for pianists, Medtner's Sonata in E minor, Op. 25 No. 2 “Night Wind” is considered by some the greatest piano sonata of the twentieth century. That might be debatable; what's not is how effectively his piece complements Rachmaninov's. While Medtner's is in two movements and his counterpart's in three, the thirty-three-minute running time of “Night Wind” dwarfs the twenty of Rachmaninov's. At eighteen minutes, the “Introduzione: Andante-Allegro” naturally ranges widely, alternating as it does between wildness and stability. Moments of grandeur and agitation intersect with expressions of longing and desire in Broberg's rendering, which transitions into the equally Dionysian and panoramic “Allegro molto sfrenatamente” without pause.

At album's end, Broberg smartly adds an extra Medtner piece, the charming Danza festiva, Op. 38 No. 3 providing a pleasing, five-minute comedown from the sonata's epic journey. Evoking the carefree joys of a village festival imparts an uplifting feeling to listeners as they leave the recording. According to the pianist, Rachmaninov, Medtner, and Scriabin were friends who challenged and inspired each other. Each of the works presented on the release partners splendidly with the others, and they collectively intimate that the composers were, in fact, kindred spirits who all distinguished their dynamic musical expressions with audacious and adventurous choices.

-- Textura

Kenny Broberg (b. 1993) captured the silver medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and a bronze medal at the 2019 International Tchaikovsky Competition,as well as prizes at the Hastings, Sydney, Seattle and New Orleans International Piano Competitions. This debut recital for Steinway & Sons (rec. 1 November 2021) from the Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia, features three Russian sonatas in contrasting yet explosive temperaments, each bearing a plethora of color possibilities created by composers who themselves were master pianists. 

Broberg opens with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 1912 Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Major, which he later revised and tightened in 1931. Broberg’s startling entry, Allegro agitato, of the B-flat arpeggio resounds with color, lush and percussive, at once. The sense of improvisation informs this account, rife with shifting harmonies and bell tones, passing cadenza motifs, and a grand chorale, resonating in D-flat Major. A parlando-recitative intrudes upon the flurry of impulses, a meditation that descends into brooding, tonally ambiguous magma ready to burst forth once more, but then resolves into quietude. 

After a brief interlude in G Major, Rachmaninoff marks the second movement Non Allegro – Lento in E Minor calling for a Brahmsian motif in falling thirds. The middle section exerts some passion, recycling themes from movement one. Broberg imbues this music with personal reflection, almost a salon meditation, after the grand design of the opening movement. In ¾, the interlude that opened the Lento reappears, only to explode in cyclical utilization of prior motifs. Broberg plays the music for its color variety, its throbbing intensity pealing or wistfully dreaming before further, martial and passionate outbursts. Despite an optimistic, new theme in D Major, the music must resolve in brilliant forays in B-flat Major, the coda especially ostentatious in its demand for Broberg’s inflamed bravura.        

The eminent writer Boris Pasternak once remarked of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), “It looked as though it would not take much to make him rise up into the air and fly away.” Scriabin himself expressed his keen desire for flight, for escape, from the diurnal intrusiveness of routine: “I can’t bear to hear other people’s music all day long and  then write my own music at night.” He would flee to Switzerland to realize his “new dreams,” to be revealed to his public “I was once a Chopinist, then a Wagnerian, now I am only a Scriabinist.” By 1906, Scriabin had dispensed with much of traditional tonality, eliminating key signatures, and his new “mystic chord” built on fourths – C-F#-B-flat-E-A-D – dominates his musical structures. The 1907 Fifth Sonata, completed almost immediately after the Symphony No. 4, The Poem of Ecstasy, embodies a blazing expression of upward audacities, and Broberg certainly addresses its compulsive momentum. Broberg’s tempos remain voluptuously swift, moving from slow, drooping figures that suddenly erupt into gallops that outdo Liszt and Chopin. The Languido section assumes a gripping eroticism, moving accarezzevole, caressingly and culminating ecstatico, in a burst of illumination, fff.  The sense of impulsive urgency dominates the performance, even as the music dematerializes in its final pages, imbued with poetic light.   

Broberg chooses the conclude an already impressive disc with two Medtner pieces, the first, one of the most challenging keyboard sonatas in the repertory, Nikolai Medtner’s 1911 E Minor Sonata, “Night Wind,” dedicated to Rachmaninoff. The opus designation seems to indicate its serving as a companion to the C Minor “Skazka” Sonata, but this epic work demands incredible stamina and musicianship, insisting upon a 15/8 metric for the first movement, which alone lasts for eighteen minutes! Medtner prefaces the work with an extended quote from Tyutchev’s poem “Silentium,” which celebrates the triumph of Chaos: 

What are you wailing about, night wind, what are you bemoaning with such fury? What does your strange voice mean, now indistinct and plaintive, now loud? In a language intelligible to the heart you speak of torment past understanding, and you moan and at times stir up frenzied sounds in the heart!

Oh, do not sing those fearful songs about primeval native Chaos! How avidly the world of the soul at night listens to its favorite story! It strains to burst out of the mortal breast and longs to merge with the Infinite … Oh, do not wake the sleeping tempests; beneath them Chaos stirs!

Medtner divides the score into a pair of Allegro movements, linked thematically in response to the two stanzas of the poem. The commanding, descending triplet figure from Broberg, marking the Introduzione, permeates the texture in sonata form, the sections marked by a passionate, sweeping series of gestures. The runs and gallops might well be ascribed to Rachmaninoff in their rich textures, the bass from Broberg insistent and haunted, a kind of “fate” motif. Much of the development plays in the manner of a stylized improvisation, often integrating silken runs with nervously martial, punctuated phrases. Medtner’s idea of singing line seems to arise from the middle of the commotion, a la Schumann and Rachmaninoff. The challenge, well met by Broberg. Lies in maintaining the tension of the mercurial, flowing sections without dramatic sag. The strettos infiltrating the last pages sing in their own, thick textures, hammered and purred by Broberg, as required. The pungent coda combines Liszt and Rachmaninoff in a rare chemical combination.   

The Introduzione provides the materials for the second movement, Allegro molto sfrenatamente, here opening  – almost without any sense of a new movement –  as an emotional torrent, urging the keyboard’s extremes in dynamics and color. Early, Medtner invests a fugato that plunks forward, teetering in an angular pattern, then dissolves into freely improvised and extensive fragments, the product of an overheated mind, whose manic fixation feels little repose from the various interludes that transpire. Some of the galloping figures again blend Liszt with Rachmaninoff in a most bravura display. 

After well over five minutes, a melody arises over a rumbling bass, a consolation of a kind, but rife with another form of anxiety. More canonic impulses urge themselves forth, highly decorative and percussive. Its declamations become insistent, obsessive, a vison either from Dante or Poe, much less Tyutchev. The procession breaks off into thin, lyrical splinters, still marked by the obsessive bass progression that itself incurs a march infested by runs, trills and broken chords. Another descent into the maelstrom before we, eventually, reach a coda that coalesces thematic shards over a tonic pedal, veiling the vision of Chaos from our perception, leaving us with two eddying arpeggios as a memory.  

Medtner’s “Danza festiva” from the Forgotten Melodies, First Cycle (1916-1922), provides Broberg a more accessible bravura piece, equally commanding in its percussive lyricism. The piece plays like a tempestuous etude, punishing in its relentless wrist action, but still managing, between dance and march, to evoke a sense of emotional confidence. The knotty progression has any number of Russian bells inscribed into its texture, and Broberg makes the most of the music’s glistening peals. 

Quite a debut for Steinway & Sons, I daresay.

-- Audiophile Audition

Pianist Kenny Broberg emerged from the University of Houston’s music program and took prizes in the big two competitions emphasizing pure Russian-school virtuosity, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. Now part of the roster of the Steinway & Sons label and splendidly recorded by that label’s engineering team at Sono Luminus studios in Virginia, he offers as a debut recording three notorious Russian finger-crunchers, the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36, of Rachmaninov, the Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53, of Scriabin (which Sviatoslav Richter called the most difficult work in the piano repertory), and the Piano Sonata No. 2 in E minor, Op. 25, No. 2, of Nikolay Medtner, with a short Medtner piece to ring down the curtain. There is a lot to like here: the crisp, properly edgy tone in the Medtner sonata (which is not as commonly played as the other works), the clean execution of the Scriabin, but really, the best news is Broberg’s careful structuring of the melodic material, even amidst the clatter of percussive, rapid runs. Sample the very beginning of the first movement of the Rachmaninov sonata, where the keyboard-spanning heroics instantly command the listener’s attention. This is a major pianist to watch in the music of the Russian school, which hasn’t had a big champion in the U.S. lately.


Question: define the word ‘cheeky’. Answer: a person who (a) devotes their solo debut CD release to three of the Russian repertoire’s most daunting sonatas, and (b) sets down the whole programme in just one day of recording. That explains why certain notes don’t quite hold their tuning, although not alarmingly so.

More importantly, Kenny Broberg has the technical wherewithal and assurance to bring off such a project. Just as Rachmaninov’s 1931 revision of his Second Sonata aimed for concision and compactness over the original 1913 version’s prolixity, Broberg in turn largely takes the composer’s dynamic and expressive directives on faith. He pedals discreetly, letting his laserlike fingers unclog the chordal thickets and coruscating downward runs. Think of Vladimir Horowitz without the nervous edge or a more benevolent Alexis Weissenberg, and you’ll hear what I mean. His slow-movement cantabiles may not palpitate in the manner of Van Cliburn’s heartfelt live recording, yet the lilting accompaniments have more backbone than usual. Lilt, however, is decidedly missing from the rhythmically forthright yet over-literal and foursquare finale.

When it comes to the necromantic idiom of Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata, let’s just say that Broberg is 75 per cent committed. The fiery opening upward runs force you to pay attention, and the fast passages convey flickering ardency and a rhythmic spring that nearly out-Richters Sviatoslav Richter. The missing 25 per cent concerns Broberg’s slight impatience and lack of repose in the lyrical sections.

Thanks, in part, to Marc-André Hamelin’s standard-setting Medtner sonata cycle, the composer’s ambitious large-scale Night Wind is slowly working its way into the active repertoire. Again, textually speaking, Broberg runs a tight and scrupulous ship, steering a steady and direct course without lingering too long at various portsides. In the lengthy first section, Broberg distinguishes agitato from poco agitato and lets you hear the differences between pesante and cantando in long stretches of passagework. To be sure, Broberg doesn’t characterise sudden changes in tempo or mood as Hamelin so brilliantly does through colour shifts and accentuation, such as the little scherzando outbursts in the first Tranquillo section (track 5, 4'33""). On the other hand, Broberg’s expressive palette comes into play throughout the sonata’s second half, while still keeping Medtner’s contrasts between thematic material and leggierissimo ‘filler’ in perfect perspective. A stunningly spaced and articulated reading of Medtner’s Danza festiva concludes a mostly impressive recital from a gifted pianist whose career I look forward to following in the future. The booklet notes offer nothing beyond a performer biography, and do not mention Broberg’s use of the 1931 Rachmaninov text.

-- Gramophone

This stellar release by the gifted young American pianist Kenny Broberg (b. 1993 in Minneapolis) reminds me of a whole generation of young pianists who flocked to imitate Horowitz in the postwar era—Julius Katchen, William Kapell, Byron Janis, Gary Graffman, and Leon Fleisher among them—through their technical prowess if not Horowitz’s inimitable personality. Having a powerhouse technique was their sine qua non, which culminated in the “beat the Russians at their own game” victory of Van Cliburn in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958.

It was crass to judge the Russian piano school by one criterion, and the pianists named above went on to acquire their own keyboard personalities. But the ethos around Horowitz lingers in my mind whenever someone offers a new version of Rachmaninoff’s mighty Second Piano Sonata. Horowitz was its most famous exponent, and the composer gracefully allowed him to devise his own edition, which was added to the sprawling 1913 original version and the 1931 revision published as “the new version, revised and reduced by the author.”

Competitions still reward powerhouses much more than poets, and Broberg has had marked success on the circuit. Among other prizes he won silver at the 2017 Van Cliburn Competition and bronze at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019. Without question he has the technique to play the most virtuosic passagework and dense textures in the Rachmaninoff. Reviewing a recent account by French pianist Jean-Paul Gasparian, I offered a generality about style in this sonata. “Where Denis Matsuev is solid and authoritative in Sonata No. 2 and Horowitz is electrically charged, Gasparian is thrilling but respectful of the work’s structure; he doesn’t let the rhapsody become untrammeled.”

From moment to moment Broberg’s style shares all of those qualities. He opens the first movement with Matsuev’s power but also a little of Matsuev’s stiffness at the beginning of the slow movement. Soon, however, he surpasses Matsuev in this movement, displaying Gasparian’s lyricism and the ability to soar with the melody. For my taste the martial tattoo that drives the finale veers a little too close to the militaristic in Broberg’s hands. Still, if this performance appeared in a competition, juries would certainly reward a pianist who can organize the Rachmaninoff Second Sonata with unerring musical instincts and who possesses the technique to convey anything he chooses.

It’s understandable, since this is Broberg’s debut on Steinway & Sons, that he wants a calling card album to be a knockout. But the exhausting difficulty of the Rachmaninoff leads to equal if not greater technical challenges in Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5 from 1907, which is even harder to hold together or indeed to make sense of for the listener. Lasting around 12 minutes and abounding in ideas, this was Scriabin’s first sonata written in one movement, the format he followed from then on.

Although all of Scriabin’s piano music is standard repertoire in Russia, Sonata No. 5 is a connoisseur’s piece that general listeners will find disjointed, dense, and harmonically baffling. I cannot say whether Broberg has mastered the score’s structure diffuseness—there is always a hidden logic behind Scriabin’s dazzling façades—but from phrase to phrase this reading is strong. Broberg beautifully handles the softer, inward passages and shifts effortlessly to the grueling passages of heavy lifting. You sense the passion in the score, and there is bravura in the pyrotechnics. At a recital I wouldn’t want to hear this sonata as a follow-up to the Rachmaninoff Second, but here my appreciation of Broberg’s musicianship was deepened.

Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Medtner started out on an equal footing in late-tsarist Russia, and this hasn’t appreciably changed in modern Russia. But Medtner was late in leaving the Soviet Union. He lacked a commercial instinct and toured as a pianist, largely playing his own works. Established in London after 1936, his career languished, and after his death in 1951 his reputation in the West was nil. In part because of the wealth of Russian piano talent that spread internationally after the fall of the Soviet Union, Medtner has emerged from obscurity, even if none of his works has become standard repertoire.

The “Night Wind” Piano Sonata in E Minor dates from 1911 and was dedicated to Rachmaninoff, who greatly admired it. In two movements lasting 33 minutes, it is the longest work on the program and the most unfamiliar. Broberg’s reading was my first acquaintance with it, and an auspicious start. The title “Night Wind” comes from a Russian poem that inspired Medtner, and there are many twilit moments set in an idiom that is often indistinguishable from Rachmaninoff. The extension of Chopin’s Romantic keyboard techniques is the same for both composers. Medtner’s melodic gift is scarcely less than Rachmaninoff’s here, and the sonata balances rhapsody and rhetoric so well that the listening experience remains interesting for the entire half hour. I was delighted to make this discovery.

Broberg is thoroughly convincing in all three composers, and there is no difficulty in giving this release a strong, enthusiastic recommendation. He is continuing his graduate studies but already has performed with major orchestras on the order of the Royal Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra. Future prospects are uncertain even for a talent as impressive as Broberg’s, but this disc, which has excellent recorded sound, should go a long way to furthering those prospects. Broberg is among the most stunning young American pianists I’ve encountered in years.

-- Fanfare

This is a truly demanding program that makes it clear how Broberg has been a medalist at both the Tchaikovsky and Van Cliburn competitions in recent years. He has many other prizes from competitions around the world and based on this recording is quite a pianist. He is currently a professor of piano in Madrid, and he is listed under faculty and artists for this summer’s International Keyboard Institute and Festival in New York. I hope I’ll get a chance to see him play.

Broberg plays the 1931 revised version of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata 2, which once was played by Horowitz and just a few other skilled and adventurous pianists. Nowadays I hear it regularly in concert and even more on recordings. A few play the original 1913 version and a few others make their own version from parts of both. Most play the composer’s 1931 revision, a little shorter and not quite as thick with notes. Broberg has all the technique required for this one and gives as satisfying a rendition as just about anyone: no over the top tempos and no pounding in the really loud places. There is some nice delineation of secondary voices, including one I hadn’t heard before on the last page of the first movement: the main motive in the bass, repeated four times, each a step higher.

Scriabin’s Sonata 5 is his first in one movement, and it is the beginning of his later harmonic style while still retaining much from the earlier sonatas. It is also getting a regular hearing in concerts recently, with both Trifonov and Yuja Wang playing it in post-pandemic recitals. It should be noted that it is the latest Scriabin piece Rachmaninoff performed in concert. Horowitz never commercially released it, but the collections of his Carnegie Hall recitals include an exciting, but messy performance. Broberg has the ability to switch gears in an instant, from thunderous passages covering the full keyboard to the most delicate interjections. He builds the piece to a most exciting climax, and a video is available on his website. Medtner, a friend of Rachmaninoff and dedicatee of his Piano Concerto 4, wrote 19 piano sonatas—all are difficult works. Perhaps the biggest and most demanding is No. 7 in E minor, Night Wind, dedicated to Rachmaninoff. Hamelin was the first to perform it at Carnegie Hall in 2014. Broberg joins a few other daring pianists who have recorded this monster in all its glory. It is not an easy sonata to listen to. I read a great description by David Allen calling it “less a gust of wind than an entire weather front”. I have listened to it occasionally going back to Hamelin’s 1998 recording (Hyperion 67221, Jan/Feb 1999). Broberg does it justice, beginning with the first movement in 15/8 time, through the huge false climaxes and into the finale marked Allegro molto sfrenatamente, presto. It finally dies away into thin air—a heroic effort that will repay (and require) many hearings.

Steinway’s recorded sound is exemplary, but they do not offer a booklet or substantial liner notes. That kind of information is readily available on the internet. This is a highly recommended debut disc, and I’ll will keep my eyes open for more, as well as concert appearances around New York.

-- American Record Guide

The music of three Russian composers – Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Medtner – all of whom worked against the backdrop of a particularly turbulent political scene, and each with dissimilar ideals, are presented here on this Steinway & Sons recording featuring American pianist Kenny Broberg. Born in Minneapolis, he was the silver medalist at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and won bronze at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019.

Rachmaninov completed his Piano Sonata No.2 in 1913 and although the piece was well received, he revised it in 1931, shortening the length and simplifying many of the difficult passages. The original must have been daunting indeed, as technical challenges still abound from the very beginning. Nevertheless, Broberg demonstrates a formidable technique, delivering a polished and exuberant performance.

No less daunting is the Scriabin Sonata No.5 Op.53 from 1907. Scriabin, a piano virtuoso, infused his music with mysticism resulting in a thoroughly modern style which closely paralleled Symbolist literature of the period. The one-movement piece – barely 12 minutes in length – has long been regarded as among his most difficult.

A younger contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, Medtner was born in Moscow in 1880. His Sonata Op.25 No.2 “Night Wind” written in 1912 is his most extended of the genre. The score is archly Romantic with a second movement Allegro molto sfrenatamente which is no less demanding than the first – the night wind never ceases. The third movement Danza Festiva proves a rousing conclusion that Broberg performs with great bravado.

In all, a fine recording by a young artist from whom we can hope to hear again.

-- The WholeNote

Broberg plays the 1931 revised version of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2, a piece that once belonged to Horowitz and just a few other adventurous pianists with the requisite technical ability. Nowadays I hear it regularly in concert and even more regularly on recordings. A few play the original 1913 version, and a few others follow Horowitz and make their own version from parts of both the original and revised versions. Most play the composer’s 1931 revision, a little shorter and not quite as thick with notes. The composer gave his blessing for Horowitz to make his own version but likely never heard the results. Broberg has all the technique required for this one and gives as satisfying a rendition as just about anyone: no over-the-top tempos and no pounding in the really loud places. There is some nice delineation of secondary voices, including one I hadn’t heard before on the last page of the first movement: the main motive in the bass, repeated four times, each time a step higher.

Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5 is his first in one movement, and it is the beginning of his later harmonic style, while still retaining much from the earlier sonatas. It is also getting a regular hearing in concerts recently, with both Trifonov and Yuja Wang playing it in post-pandemic recitals. It should be noted that it is the most harmonically advanced Scriabin piece that his classmate and friend Rachmaninoff performed in concert. Horowitz never commercially released it, but the collections of his Carnegie Hall recitals include an exciting but messy performance. Broberg has the ability to switch gears in an instant, from thunderous passages covering the full keyboard to the most delicate interjections. He builds the piece to a most exciting climax. A video of a performance of this work is available on his website:

Medtner, a friend of Rachmaninoff and dedicatee of his Fourth Piano Concerto, wrote 19 piano sonatas, and all are difficult works. Unquestionably, the biggest and most demanding is No. 7 in E minor, op. 25/2, “Night Wind,” dedicated to Rachmaninoff. Marc-André Hamelin was the first to perform it at Carnegie Hall (2014). Broberg joins a few other daring pianists that have recorded this monster in all its glory. It is not an easy sonata to listen to, and can be overwhelming and diffuse. I have listened to it occasionally, going back to Hamelin’s 1998 recording. Broberg does it justice, beginning with the first movement in 15/8 time, through the huge climaxes and into the finale marked Allegro molto sfrenatamente, presto that finally dies away into thin air. This piece repays many hearings and is indeed a heroic effort.

Steinway’s recorded sound is, as always, exemplary, but it does not offer a booklet or substantial liner notes. That kind of information is readily available on the internet for those who want more, and typically you can go as deep as you desire. Nowadays, the scores to most music not under copyright also are easily available. This is a highly recommended debut disc, and makes me sorry that I missed Broberg’s recital last summer at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival in New York City. I see him listed again this coming summer, and I hope I’ll get a chance to see him play in concert, given the intense and virtuosic playing on this release. He is one to keep your eyes on.

-- Fanfare Read less