Dubravka Tomsic & Max Bragado-Darman
The Monterey Symphony is ending its 2012-2013 season this weekend with performances at Steinbeck Hall in Salinas and at Sunset Center in Carmel. For the Monterey Symphony this has been “The Season of the Piano” and each program presented great masterpieces from the piano concerto and solo repertoire. What better way to end “The Season of the Piano” than with that most beloved of all romantic piano concertos – the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, which is on everyone’s “TopTen” list of most popular concertos, and which appeared so effectively as the powerful and poignant background music in the Noël Coward/David Lean 1945 film “Brief Encounter.”
Returning for the ninth time as piano soloist with the Monterey Symphony, Dubravka Tomsic, looking like the grand dame of the piano she is, sat down at the Hamburg Steinway to play “Rach 2” (as it is lovingly called by students and fans) and proceeded to give us sort of a “rocking chair” version of the concerto. It was a sedate, rather tired and leisurely performance that lasted 43 minutes. This 43-minute duration contrasts dramatically with many recorded versions (Sergei Rachmaninoff 31:17, Sviatoslav Richter 32:29, Artur Rubinstein 33:11 & Van Cliburn 34:03). The extra ten to twelve minutes tended to slow down the action so much that the entire concerto seemed to contain not one slow movement, but rather three slow movements.
However, Ms. Tomsic belted out the great solo tunes in all three movements, knowing just how to pull the heartstrings, and every once in awhile, she would slip her leash, go into overdrive and show us what she truly was capable of. This she did in the development section of the first movement and in the final pages of the last movement – Rachmaninoff really knew how to write an exciting coda that would bring an audience to its feet every time. And thus did members of the audience respond with a resounding standing ovation, and I believe they genuinely enjoyed the performance.
The opening work on the program was Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” in a brilliant and boisterous performance where just about every musical instrument known to man was on stage with an important part to play. It was jazzy and it was effective.
Closing the program was a performance of Maurice Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an exhibition.” This turned out to be a nice complement to the original piano solo version heard earlier in the season performed by pianist Josu de Solaun. Under the direction of Conductor Max Bragado-Darman, this performance was bold and dramatic as we heard all our favorite sections, more frequently heard on piano, brought to life in Ravel’s brilliant orchestration.