|Pianist Yury Shadrin and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra|
Despite being one of the more popular piano concertos out there, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, S.124 never really appealed to me. I find it emotionally lacking and it doesn’t grip me at all. That’s why it surprised me when I found myself glued and in all ears at a performance of this piece during the opening night of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s 35th concert season. Billed as Romancing the Classics, this season also marks the sophomore year of Yoshikazu Fukumura as principal conductor and music director.
Responsible for my reaction with the Liszt was the guest artist of the evening, the Russian pianist Yury Shadrin. His take on the concerto was not about the dazzling fireworks nor the boastful display of virtuosity although he was extremely precise. His Liszt, if I may say, was very musical if one can believe that. Most important for me, he was able to make the Fazioli grand piano sing, and with the Liszt at that. Acquired by the Cultural Center of the Philippines almost a year ago but only used a few times since then, the much talked about Fazioli’s potential was finally realized. Shadrin was able to bring out shimmering, crystal clear notes especially on the piano’s higher registers. And the piano’s lush tones were highlighted in his sublime encore of Frédéric Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 1 in A-flat major. Prior to the Liszt concerto, the orchestra played Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to Il viaggio a Reims which meant that the triangle (and its respective player) had a major workout during the first half of the concert.
The second half of the concert satisfied my much needed desire for a strong emotional punch as Fukumura led the orchestra with a sweeping rendition of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27. For almost an hour, the orchestra showed not only the discipline and focus evident under Fukumura’s helm but also unfaltering energy that I think is probably fueled by a sizable number of young guest musicians in this concert. I am extremely pleased that Fukumura wasn’t swayed by too much excitement and kept at the expected tempo through most of the symphony, although I wished that he went just a tad slower during the third movement Adagio. Some audience members being jolted by the “surprise” at the Allegro molto second movement told me that either the Rachmaninoff symphony is still not familiar to most concert goers here or that there were newbies among the audience that night. Either case, it brought me a moment of amusement that almost 110 years after the symphony’s premiere, that surprise is still making audiences jump off of their seats.
With a piece such as the Rachmaninoff, I usually have some worries that the audience might find it too long or too heavy. But the resounding and enthusiastic response from them dissipated my fears that they aren’t yet ready for music like this. Like what I’ve said earlier, this season was billed as Romancing the Classics, the next step after Fukumura’s debut season of going back to basics. And with the PPO’s performance during the opening night, it looks like the audience got swept on its feet and got caught up in the romance already.