Soloist Michael Noble & Max Bragado-Darman
What a way to end a season! Max Bragado-Darman and the Monterey Symphony pleased us with exciting performances of two works so rarely heard that most of us in the audience were hearing them for the first time, and then ended the program with a knockout performance of César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor — a work that was at one time more popular than it is today, but which sounded fresh to our ears for all the loving detail lavished on its performance.
The evening’s soloist, 28-year-old pianist Michael Noble, the Grand Prize winner of the Carmel Music Society’s 2013 Piano Competition, is a DMA candidate at the Yale School of Music who balances his doctoral studies with concerts and advanced study throughout the world. That the Monterey Symphony has invited him to perform as soloist is a lovely example of synergy — an acknowledgement and endorsement of a talented competition winner unearthed by the Carmel Music Society, whose biennial Piano Competition is one the most eagerly anticipated events on the Monterey Peninsula.
Hearing the Dvořák Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33, for the first time, we wonder why we don’t hear it more often. At 42 minutes duration, this work has a lot to say, and its structure reveals the hand of a composer with well known gifts for orchestration. Thick orchestral textures complimented attractive melodic and rhythmic gestures, and the writing for piano turned out to be surprisingly idiomatic. Michael Noble is a pianist with an admirable ability to serve the music at times with the subtlety of a master chamber music player, and also at times to blaze forth with commanding virtuosity and to carry us to dramatic climaxes. In an age when many young virtuosos never encounter a fortissimo they couldn’t play louder, or a presto they couldn’t play faster, it was gratifying to hear in Michael Noble, a pianist who is first and foremost a musician. He never exploits a work for gratuitous display of pianistic dazzle. He is a musician, who just happens also to be a virtuoso.
The concert opened with the overture to “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Otto Nicolai. who coincidentally, born in 1810 and died in 1849, the exact life span of Chopin, demonstrates a gift for orchestration that we always wish had been shared by Chopin (whose orchestration in his concertos is embarrassingly weak). Nikolai knew well how to spin some tunes, mix them with Viennese charm, stir them thoroughly and produce an attractive work we would like to hear more often.
The concert ended with Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, a great symphony that had fallen on evil days — that evil being too popular and subsequently suffering neglect. Max Bragado-Darman and the musicians of the Monterey Symphony gave us a fine and exciting performance that once more charmed and excited us with its lush harmonic and melodic structure. There were undoubtedly younger members of the audience, and there were a lot of them, who were probably hearing this symphony for the first time. The orchestra sounded mighty good on this occasion, and there were many lovely solos — especially Ruth Stueart Burroughs, whose great English Horn solo in the second movement was very moving.
As I said, “What a great way to end a season.”