Instrumentalist - Piano
Pianist proves worthy of Rachmaninoff test
LEWISTON -- Cecile Licad has the goods. The Filipino-born pianist proved that Friday night at Artpark in a technically stunning performance of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto. Mastering that concerto is quite a feat.

It was the centerpiece of the movie "Shine," which showed it driving a pianist to the brink of madness. And there was a grain of truth to that fiction. Rachmaninoff, a big handsome man with huge hands, wrote the concerto as a showpiece for himself. And through the decades it has remained the domain of big handsome men with huge hands.

So when along comes someone like Licad, you want to cheer.

Licad did make the crowd cheer, wildly, on Friday night. Hardly was that showstopping ending over -- those unforgettable last notes, in the rhythm of "Rachmaninoff" -- when the listeners leapt to their feet.

The all-Russian concert was full of uncompromising virtuosity. The first half was a feast of Russian romanticism. Beginning the night was Saint-Saens' "Bacchanale" from "Samson and Delilah." The piece is one of civilization's great strip-tease dances, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director JoAnn Falletta swaggered through it.

The beautiful Adagio from Khachaturian's "Spartacus" came next, full of passion and pathos. Buffalo dancer Sergio Neglia has made this his trademark, and there must have been many in the audience who, like me, kept imagining he was going to come walking out carrying a woman over his head.

Four excerpts from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" brought the first half of the concerto to a brooding close.

During intermission, you could only imagine what Licad's mindset was. It's rare for a soloist to perform in a concert's second half, and it's a pity she had to wait that long to tackle the Rachmaninoff tour de force.

When she walked out, you could feel the tension. Her jaw set, not looking at the audience, Licad adjusted the bench. We all held our breaths.

The gentle octaves that began the piece were neatly articulated. Falletta looked over her shoulder at Licad, nodding in gentle encouragement. And we were off. It is great when a piece gets off to this kind of a start, everyone breathing together, everyone involved.

Licad didn't disappoint anyone looking for an athletic feat. Her approach was rhythmic and uncompromising. Accents stood out. You could see her breathing hard, humming along. She played as if she had something to prove.

And she did have something to prove: her virtuosity. By the end of that first movement, no one doubted it.
Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News
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