Gavin Gamboa is a student, so any technical review in terms of craft will be left up to his mentor, but he has the makings of a star. His playing is polished and engaging, and he is tall, slim, and dramatically good-looking, with a very personal approach to the four composers whose works he performed last Saturday. He played everything from memory, and if — very rarely — this brought him to the brink of hesitation, the pluses overwhelmingly out-weighed the hypothetical minuses. In every piece, it seemed, he had a preference for the lyrical over the merely pianistic.
The concert opened with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, from Book I of the Well-Tempered Klavier. The Prelude came out as a swirling, 19th-century affair, melodies welling up in the most unlikely places, but very pretty. The Fugue offered few opportunities for lyricism, so Gamboa had to sort out its intricacies in earnest,holding things together by an act of will. The next piece was Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob XVI: 50, with which he did very well. The finale was a giddy string of red herrings and non sequiturs — Haydn messing with our minds.
Then, foregoing the scheduled intermission, Gamboa gave a splendidly haunting rendition of Ravel’s Oiseaux tristes from the collection Miroirs. The performance was placid, serene, and appropriately reflective. Ravel is making a comeback.
The concert closed with the most brilliant piece on the program, Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Opus 38, and Gamboa’s playing was equal to it — a real lapel seizer, and his spectacular performance of it just about brought down the house. If the intention was a big, memorable finish to fix our memories of the concert, then it was wildly successful.