Soloists William Wellborn & Heidi Hau
How could you ask for a more popular program, or one that would appeal more to all ages and the widest spectrum of audience members? What I am referring to is the Monterey Symphony’s next-to-last program of its present season, for the evening’s fare consisted of Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals and ended with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor.
Because of its familiarity, does this kind of program tend to lose it effectiveness or its appeal to audiences? The answer is a resounding “No.” The intrinsic value of the music is so tried, tested and universally loved that it remains fresh to our ears no matter how many times we hear it.
In today’s era of awareness of “historically informed performance” (HIP) we might pose the question of whether the performance of both Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and the Overture to The Barber of Seville might have benefitted from slightly more reduced orchestras — orchestras available to Mozart were certainly smaller that those of today, and opera orchestras in Italy in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, even at such metropolitan centers as Rome and Milan, were also limited in size.
Having posed this question, we suspect that the Overture to The Barber of Seville in this performance may have suffered slightly from the expanded instrumentation and lost some of its lightness and spontaneity, however the orchestra under the direction of Max Bragado-Darmen sounded lovely and the dynamics were beautifully controlled with some excellent subtleties of artfully controlled shaping of phrases. As for Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, this score has so much powerful Sturm und Drang emotion bursting at its seams that it adapts well to a larger orchestra. As always this great work tends to make a powerful impression, and so it did on this occasion.
“Maestro Max” made the decision not to include a narrator reading Ogdan Nash’s amusing verses for the performance of The Carnival of the Animals. This was a good decision, since Nash’s verses are somewhat dated today (who under the age of 70 would know who the “Andrew Sisters” were), and the score is just as effective without them.
Performing the two-piano score of The Carnival of the Animals were pianists Heidi Hau and William Wellborn. Heidi Hau is a familiar presence on the Monterey Peninsula, having been a Grand Prize Winner of the Carmel Music Society’s Piano Competition and also as a duo-piano soloist with John O’Conor in a previous Monterey Symphony season.
Well, it was loads of fun hearing Camile Saint-Saëns’ humorous depictions of all kinds of animals (with a sly poke at “pianists” frittering away their time playing tedious technical exercises) and including the forever popular “The Swan,” which has been transcribed for a wide variety of solo and ensemble instrumentation.
Pianists Hau and Wellborn entertained us mightily as they romped from one end of the keyboard to the other making splendid effects. We would love to see them back again.