World renowned violinist Elmar Oliveira held the audience in the palm of his hand last night as he gave a luscious and powerful rendition of Bruch’s famous Violin Concerto No. 1. This is a work heard more often in recordings, thus it was a special pleasure to hear it on this occasion in live performance by the Monterey Symphony conducted by Max-Bragado-Darman for a capacity audience at Sunset Center.
Oliveira’s brief unaccompanied opening solo was a rising melody that immediately commanded our attention — especially his lovely shaping of the phrase and the way it ended in a subtle diminuendo at the top that just slowly and mysteriously evaporated off into the ether. From these quiet opening moments to the stirring conclusion of the Allegro energico, Oliveira demonstrated a mastery and artistry that held us enthralled. His gorgeous sound combined with his magnificent technique (that always serves the music rather than seeking gratuitous display) was a winning combination. We look forward to his return in future seasons.
The concert opened with another work heard more often on CDs than in live performance, Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 27, and we can guess there were many in the audience who were hearing it for the first time. Written when Mendelssohn was barely out of his teens and demonstrating mature orchestration skills, this work made a splendid effect and left us thirsting for more Mendelssohn.
The concluding work was Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, Op 120. Although this Symphony is almost 35 minutes long, it seemed much shorter because the Monterey Symphony was at the top of its form with strings, winds, brass and percussion sounding at their best. Schumann’s formative years were spent in Düsseldorf, Germany, a Rhineland city of 650,000 today, but in the 1830s a city of 27,000, the size of Monterey today. Schumann’s feeling for the Rhineland is ever present in his Fourth Symphony, and the performance we heard last night evoked a warm nostalgia for this period of European history.
It was stated in the program, that conducting Schumann’s Fourth Symphony has fulfilled one of Max Bragado-Darman’s lifelong goals — to have conducted all four of Schumann’s Symphonies. Well, Maestro Max, you got your wish and you enriched us in the process.