Instrumentalist - Piano
Rarer gems and a favorite all sparklers
"Chances are, you've never heard this piece before," conductor Andreas Delfs said, introducing the Honolulu Symphony's opening work, "and chances are, you'll never hear it again."

Delfs replaced the Hawai'i Theatre program's original opening work with a personal favorite, explaining: "I like to bring in different pieces. There are so many diamonds in the repertoire that are never heard."

Saturday's program began and ended with two of those diamonds: Schumann's "Overture, Scherzo and Finale," three movements of not-quite-a-symphony, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, most often heard only in recordings.

The Schumann was a lighthearted sectional piece, more reminiscent of his cycles of songs and piano miniatures than of his symphonies. Like so many of Schumann's best works, "Overture, Scherzo and Finale" sounded as though its inspiration lay outside music -- mini orchestral portraits of characters and tales.

According to Delfs, the request to substitute Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 for the original closer came from the orchestra: They hadn't played it in a long time and wanted to.

Most people know Symphony No. 1 only for its famous opening chords, but its many innovations guaranteed it a permanent place in the repertoire even if Beethoven had composed no more symphonies. In fact, if Beethoven had composed no more, Symphony No. 1 would be much better-known; it was he who over-shadowed himself.

The second movement, for example, is a triple-meter Viennese confection of a slow movement, which pre-empts the third movement's traditional minuet, forcing the third movement to reinvent itself as an almost manic scherzo, the first of its kind.

And in the final movement, Beethoven borrowed a page from Haydn's legendary rhythmic wit: he stretches the theme's anacrusis (the upbeat leading into a downbeat), adding one note each time until it covers the entire scale. In the development, the anacruses build into a massive pile-up, anacruses on top of anacruses with no resolution in sight, until the dam finally breaks into a climactic downbeat, and the tension floods into a rousing finale.

In between those two novelties lay the program's center of attention: Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, which is so popular that Honolulu audiences have heard it several times in the last few years.

Chopin's concerto -- his first, despite its numbering, and composed when he was only 19 years old -- remains a youthful work, focused on the soloist and replete with technical display, the orchestra providing mostly accompaniment. In fact, at its premiere, the work was performed as a piano solo, sans orchestra. It endures in the repertoire largely because of its stunningly beautiful second movement.

Pianist Cecile Licad, a native of the Philippines, blazed through Chopin's technical demands without a hitch, playing with surprising passion. In general, and particularly in the first movement, Licad's touch had more substance, more drive and inner tension than the typical Chopinesque style, but that energy also provided an effective foil for the more delicate passages.

Licad was at her best in that exquisite second movement. She chose a languid tempo for the 'A' section, its melodies hanging weightless in midair, notes dripping like honey or tumbling in delicate cascades. Her mercurial, hotheaded Gypsy of a 'B' section swept through in a whirlwind, adding depth to the return of 'A.' Licad's final measures, a pianissimo flourish rising in slow motion, simply evaporated into the air.

Licad's performance on Saturday was terrific, and the audience leapt to its feet as the last note faded.

The evening ended with Delfs answering questions at Concert Conversations. Articulate and personable, he is becoming the orchestra's best public relations instrument.

When asked what it is like to conduct a soloist for the first time, Delfs quipped, "Have you ever been on a blind date? It's kind of like that -- it either works or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it's very painful. You try to sit it out and be polite."

He was, however, quick to point out that the collaboration with Licad went smoothly: "She plays with a very passionate temperament, so she's not that easy to accompany, but (her playing) is all very natural, so we got along very well."

In response to the inevitable questions about this year's different venues, Delfs explained, "The cramped seating is not the problem; these musicians roll with the punches. The acoustics is the problem. The orchestra needs room to resonate in. If (the acoustics are) as dry as it is here, there is no reverb."

The reverberation also helps with intonation: in a venue as dry as the restored theater Downtown, every variation in pitch from even the backmost stands of the violin section is audible.

"We'd enjoy it a little more if the sound would ring on a little longer," the conductor said.

Delfs concluded that performing in different venues is "fine once in awhile, but it's time now for the orchestra to return to its home." His comments were greeted with enthusiastic applause.
Ruth Bingham, Honolulu Advertiser
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