Pianist Adam Golka, who agreed only four days ago to fill in for an injured Andre Watts, gave a remarkable performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in concert with the Waco Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at Waco Hall.
Displaying a firm, forceful touch on the four-movement work's dynamic passages and a buttery tone on its more reflective moments, the 24-year-old Golka brought the Waco Hall crowd to its feet with his playing and musicianship.
Watts, one of the world's leading pianists, was scheduled to play the Brahms concerto as part of the WSO's 50th anniversary season, reprising his first appearance with the WSO. He injured a finger in an recent accident, Waco Symphony Association President Kay Olson told the audience in pre-concert remarks, and informed the symphony office that he'd have to cancel.
A flurry of calls to orchestral agents for a pianist able, and willing, to play the Brahms Second Concerto led to Golka, who flew to Waco from New York Tuesday to begin rehearsals. With one of his instructors in the audience — pianist Jose Feghali, who himself performed with the WSO in November — Golka showed himself up to the challenge.
His play, coupled with the orchestra's, gave each movement a distinctive feel, a forceful first, a swelling, emotional second, an exquisite, soulful third movement and a brisk, bright summation in the finale.
Golka's loud, crashing chords tended to ring too much and fingers missed their mark occasionally, but these were minor shortcomings compared to his nimble fingering, pacing and soft runs that were almost creamy in tone, The tall pianist often curled his body toward the keyboard, rapidly nodding his head during some passages and finding time for an occasional smile in the concluding movements.
While Golka was good, the orchestra, under Music Director Stephen Heyde, was great in a work that balances soloist and orchestra. The orchestra provided a firm, yet supple reading of the Brahms concerto throughout. Principal cellist Ross Gasworth's gorgeous solos in the third movement, matched by equally lovely support in the strings, woodwind solos and Golka's attentive play, turned the movement into one of melting beauty.
A crisp rendering of the last movement, with its interplay between orchestra and piano, ended the work and the concert on a high note.
The evening's program opened with Mozart's Symphony No. 41, a work neatly executed by the WSO with a large string section and reduced woodwinds and brass. Despite the shift in instrumental numbers, the WSO showed a fine balance in the piece, the larger string section playing cleanly and clearly, avoiding any muddiness that sectional size sometimes causes.
The ensemble's clarity brought out the Mozart's varying flavors — the slower, reflective second movement with a sweet interplay between violins and cello, the light-footed dance rhythms of the third and the interlocking parts of the last movement's grand fugue.
Persons with non-discounted tickets to Thursday's concert will receive vouchers for free admission to Watts' April 16 recital at Baylor University's Jones Concert Hall. The pianist offered to add the Waco performance after his cancellation this week.
Olson noted in her pre-concert remarks that only two people had requested a ticket refund after the change in guest soloist, a tribute, she said, to WSO fans' trust in and support of the orchestra.