The final concert of the Brevard Philharmonic‘s 2010-11 season was a nod to Liszt’s bicentennial. The virtuoso’s adventurous Piano Concerto No. 2 was framed by two more conservative works, Otto Nicolai’s Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8. The concert was substantial improvement over years past. There were fewer obvious mistakes from players and the whole orchestra seemed more cohesive.

They began the program with Nicolai’s Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor. The opera isn’t performed often outside Germany, but the Overture is played fairly regularly in other countries. The orchestra was able to capture that light, Viennese sound in which the Overture is steeped, but the players struggled with the transitions and tempo changes.

The soloist for the Liszt was Romanian pianist Judit Gábos. She had an imposing presence at the instrument, and there was a definition and sharpness in her playing that suited the more vehement passages. Most of the performance was convincing and coherent, but there were a few obvious passages in the third movement were the soloist and the orchestra didn’t arrive at the same instant. It was a significant issue that could have easily been fixed by more communication between the conductor and the soloist.

Ms. Gábos was applauded enthusiastically after her performance, and she was gracious enough to return to the stage for an encore. She played Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase, a fantasy on themes from the Verdi opera. Her solo playing was as clean and graceful as her performance with the orchestra. Her passagework was fluid and effortless, and her octaves were pristine.

Dvorák’s 8th Symphony is a sprawling, late romantic work with tinges of Hungarian folk music. In the first movement there was a sense of purpose and forward momentum throughout, but when the orchestra reached the coda the violin section lost its intonation in the fast passages that made use of the upper register. The second movement has that Hungarian flavor associated with much of Dvorák’s music. The flute section is exposed through much of this movement and the rose to the challenge, playing with elegance and charm. The brass also stood out in this movement, playing with a bold, brazen sound that filled the entire hall. The orchestra seemed cohesive through most of the last movement, and the principal flutist again performed her difficult solos with daring and brilliance. The coda sounded a bit rushed, but was loud and exciting and the audience loved it.

Even with some of these issues, this concert was a much more enjoyable experience than previous Brevard Philharmonic concerts, and hopefully the orchestra will continue to grow musically and play on an even higher level.