Cecile Licad, piano
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor
Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Francisco Buencamino Sr.
Earl Wild/George Gershwin
Embraceable You from Seven Virtuoso Etudes on Gershwin Songs
Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Souvenirs d'Andalousie, Op.22
Cecile Licad, without a doubt the Philippines’ most celebrated pianist, has captivated audiences with her performances here and abroad for more than three decades already. Such an impressive résumé gives her an aura that she could do no wrong. But her most recent concert, entitled Cecile Licad Encore!, saw her sprinting her way through piano concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff with such dizzying speed that she actually left the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, led by principal conductor and music Olivier Ochanine, huffing and puffing in her wake.
The concert actually started at the right tempo with the PPO coasting through Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri at the expected tempo, although the sound was less explosive without the bass drum, the triangle, and the cymbals, leaving only the timpani as the sole percussion.
The explosion started early on right at the opening piano chords of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 with Licad going on a bit too fast. Any hope of her slowing down was dashed by when she did the cadenza at lightning speed. And right then and there, I somehow knew that she would stick with this blistering pace throughout the lengthy first movement. A moment of reprieve was granted when she slowed things down at the second movement. But dread started to creep in as she approached the central Prestissimo section and my fears were founded when she indeed reverted to her first movement antics and played this section a lot faster than usual. The third movement was no better as she went on faster than before with the orchestra struggling at times just to remain in the same measure with her. I do have to give her credit that despite the unearthly speed that she spurred with this concerto, her precision was still amazingly spot on.
Licad’s second piece of the night, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 fared a bit better with her surprisingly starting slower dragging out the introductory chords. Probably owing to the piano serving an accompanying role throughout most of the first two movements, her tempo remained in check. Alas, it was short lived. For every opening of a phrase that she stretched, she responded by accelerating inexplicably towards the end. And just like with the Tchaikovsky, the fast interlude in the second movement of the Rachmaninoff went by like a blur in Licad’s hands. There were more moments of brilliance with the Rachmaninoff but her penchant to speed things up, especially as she neared the end of the third movement, made for an unsettling listening experience. Spicing up a well-known piece, giving it a fresh and exciting interpretation is one thing. But I think that she crossed the line when she took extreme liberties in regards to tempo.
The audience’s rapturous response to Licad's performance was not surprising. Though it seemed to me that it was either due to her exuberance, the stunning sight of the speed of her hands and fingers as seen on two giant screens at each side of the stage, or most probably because she is Cecile Licad, the Philippines’ most celebrated pianist. While she had most of the CCP audience at the palm of her hand despite a less than ideal performance, it would be a different matter with a more discerning New York audience if she performs the same way this Tchaikovsky piano concerto when she joins the PPO at their Carnegie Hall concert later this year.
Most surprisingly, Licad’s three encores, namely Francisco Buencamino Sr.’s Lullaby, Earl Wild’s arrangement of George Gershwin’s Embraceable You from his Seven Virtuoso Etudes on Gershwin Songs, and Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Souvenirs d'Andalousie, Op.22, actually showcased more of Licad’s musicality. By not rushing through the pieces unnecessarily, she exhibited delicate touch, finesse, and restraint, along with power, command, and spark that I wish she displayed with her two piano concertos.
Cecile Licad Encore! was a co-presentation of the Philippine Italian Association and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, with the Rustan’s Group of Companies, Calata Corporation, The Peninsula Manila, Starbucks, Royal Duty Free Shops, Inc., and the San Miguel Corporation. The proceeds of the concert will benefit the Philippine Italian Association Endowment Fund and also the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming US tour this June 2016.