Conductor Max Bragado-Darman led the Monterey Symphony in a concert of three popular masterpieces last night at Sunset Center in Carmel, and, not surprisingly, it was a great success with each work winning a rousing standing ovation. 2019-2020 will be the last season for retiring conductor Bragado-Darman, and he will be missed.
The concert began with one of Richard Wagner’s masterpieces, the Overture to his opera The Flying Dutchman. The tale of a cursed ship that can never make port and is doomed to wander the seas forever is effectively set to music by Wagner and continues to fascinate audiences today as much as it did at its premiere in Dresden in 1843. Last night the Monterey Symphony wowed us with its powerful performance that featured a full compliment of strings, woodwinds, brass, trombones, bassoons, harp and percussion, plus the strong direction from Bragado-Darman.
The soloist heard during this concert was the brilliant Cuban pianist, Marcos Madrigal, performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor. This is a work heard more often in recorded performances than in live concerts. One reason for this is the thinness of Chopin’s orchestration, originally intended for a reduced-size orchestra. Last night we heard a full orchestra which threatened at times to overwhelm the pianist. However, where the full orchestral sound did not overwhelm was in the magnificent tutti at the beginning of the development section of the Concerto’s first movement and in climatic moments in the final movement. There, the huge orchestration made sense. In any case pianist Madrigal was not about to be intimidated by a powerful orchestra at his elbow, for he is a brilliant pianist who aimed for the virtuoso aspects of the concerto rather than for the elegant salon style demonstrated by Chopin in his own performances. The lovely recitative accompanied by shimmering strings in the slow movement made a powerful effect, and the coda of the last movement never sounded better. Madrigal responded to the enthusiastic response from the audience by playing one encore, a super virtuoso, knock-em-dead piece that I had never heard before. It sounded like Liszt — or maybe Liszt on meth. It was dazzling.
The concert ended with a fine performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5. No matter how many times you have heard this great work, it remains as effective and powerful as ever. Especially beautiful in last night’s performance was the luscious Andante slow movement that tore at the heartstrings, but in its entirety the performance of the whole symphony last night was supremely effective.
Goodbye, Monterey Symphony, we will see you in September. You gave us a great sendoff.