Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ricson Poonin's aria, Tchaikovsky's swan song highlight PPO's January concert

Trombone player Ricson Poonin with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra

After almost three weeks since the year started, I was finally back in my regular seat at the Cultural Center of the Philippines having my fill of new music in the form of a symphonic sea battle and a rare trombone spotlight courtesy of Ricson Poonin and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

Led by Associate conductor Herminigildo Ranera, the concert got off to a good start when the opening horn solo in Manuel Maramba OSB’s Symphony Ode “La Naval” went without a hitch. Usually spotty, the horn section were faultless this time and it set the tone for the rest of the evening. The piece started out solemnly depicting people of Manila in fervent prayer as the Spanish-Filipino naval fleet prepare for battle against the invading Dutch fleet. The tension escalated as the battle commenced highlighted with two groups of the brass section positioned at both sides of the lower boxes. Their antiphonal dialogue provided a unique stereo surround sound although they somehow drowned out the strings in the process. And as expected, the battle eventually ends in a victory for the defending fleet and the piece ends with the whole orchestra in a resounding triumphant note.

Next up was trombone player Ricson Poonin who played Ferdinand David’s Concertino for Trombone and Orchestra, Op. 4. I have not heard about the composer nor heard any of his works prior to this one so I was really all ears during the performance. Just like the Maramba piece, this was also very accessible and quite short with the typical fast-slow-fast three movements albeit without a pause. I made sure that I savored the rare moment of hearing the trombone as the featured solo instrument in this piece.

Trombone player Ricson Poonin
and conductor Herminigildo Ranera

Since the concertino just clocked at around 15 minutes, Ricson had to do an encore which was Nessun Dorma from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. I bet that I wasn’t the only one who was surprised when he sang the first part before letting the trombone take over bringing this famous aria to its victorious end.

Four years may be too soon for me to see the PPO perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, "Pathétique" again since I last saw it but I wasn’t complaining at all during this concert. One of the symphonies that I get to appreciate more as I grow older, the lush strings and the sweeping melodies got through to me as expected. This time, I was able to focus more on the second movement’s unusual “waltz” as the orchestra meticulously navigated through the 5/4 meter. Not surprisingly, most of the audience applauded at the end of the third movement but the best part for me was yet to come. One couldn’t help but feel dragged down by despair as the symphony cried and wailed before it ended with such a somber note.

Thankfully, Ranera brought the audience out of their despair by leading the orchestra with Johann Strauss I’s Radetzky March, Op. 228 for an encore. With the audience clapping along even though they were not yet instructed to do so, it finally felt like a proper welcome to the New Year after battling it out at sea and plunging into the depths of despair.

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