Instrumentalist - Piano
Licad breaks 'Rach 3' sex barrier as if by magic
For decades, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 has remained the domain of male pianists with huge hands.

Then along comes dainty Filipino Cecile Licad who has proven that a good female pianist can play "Rach 3." She rocks.

Twice in a row last month, Licad received wild, cheering ovations in her latest foray into this technically demanding concerto, as soloist of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of JoAnne Faletta, mentor of Filipino-American conductor Eugene Castillo.

Reporting from Lewiston, New York, where the Buffalo Philharmonic played, American critic Mary Kunz Goldman wrote: "Cecile Licad has the goods. The Filipino-born pianist proved that 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."

The critic reported that 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," wrote Goldman.

Earlier, before the Lewiston engagement, Licad played Rach 3 as one of the highlights of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, also graced by Japanese violinist Midori and American pianist Andre Watts.

Music critic William Thomas Walker reported on a "powerful performance" in the all-Russian program that included works of Stravinsky and Shostakovich for the orchestra.

Wrote Walker: "Music director Gerard Schwarz chose an enterprising and imaginative all-Russian program for the second concert of the Eastern Music Festival (EMF). Guest pianist Cecile Licad proved that Rachmaninoff's heavyweight concertos are not necessarily 'for men only.' Not many decades ago, the ripe romanticism of the Third Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 30 by Sergei Rachmaninoff seemed to be the preserve of men. Only the late Gina Bachauer (Greek classical pianist) broke with the trend by regularly playing the composer's concertos in the concert hall and on recordings.

"Philippine-born pianist Cecile Licad has taken on this repertory since the beginning of her recording career on CBS. There was no lack of power or finesse in her fiery EMF performance. Her dynamic range was breathtaking--from thundering chords to the most delicate passages. The fastest passages were precisely articulated. Her coordination with important orchestra instrumental solos had the quality of fine chamber music. Schwarz led a finely balanced accompaniment that fit Licad's interpretation like kid gloves," wrote Walker.

The Internet lists Licad (along with Van Cliburn and Gary Graffman) as one of the great interpreters of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.

Last June in Germany, Licad's "Rach 2" was the toast of German music critics. A young Russian prizewinner made the mistake of playing the same piece with the same orchestra in the same month and got the brunt of critics and audiences--she suffered in comparison with Licad.

"I am not competing with anyone," said Licad when told that she had won hands down in what seemed like a grand Olympics of Rach 2s by different artists in Beethoven's turf.

"Great music at its best," announced a German newspaper which carried the picture of a beaming Licad with the German orchestra.

When the Filipina pianist returned to Germany last month, she played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and the critics got a taste of the Russian temperament of the Filipina pianist.

German critic Klaus Winterberg described Licad's performance as simply spectacular. Playing under conductor Rainer Koch, the critic noted the precise cues and grand pauses, as if by magic.

Wrote Winterberg: "The tempos were always right, including the rubatos, while hardly ever sounding strained. The ladies and gentlemen in the orchestra achieved all this with great aplomb and discipline, which was particularly important for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto. Dainty Cecile Licad had lost nothing in technique (and strength) since her last performance in Leverkusen, and had only gained in passion. There was no stopping her. Despite this, the orchestra kept in time with her every move seamlessly and apparently effortlessly, resulting in an overwhelming climax. The acclaimed encores from Kreisler/Rachmaninoff and Gottschalk confirmed that her glittering virtuosity is her forte."

A German couple from Frankfurt who have since become fanatic fans of Licad wrote to her: "We just wanted to tell you once more how grateful we are that we had the opportunity to meet you. We fell in love with your music when we heard you in Husum last summer. Every time we hear you play, it reconfirms our first strong impression: There are many good pianists in the world, and some real great ones whose recordings we also love. But we cannot remember having connected to anyone's way of playing so immediately and spontaneously as in your case. It's a spiritual experience for us, far beyond simple admiration for your technical brilliance, musicality and aesthetic integrity. But on top of all that, everything you play touches us in the very deep layers of our hearts and souls."

Licad has good news for her fans in the Philippines: She will return next year for a concert with celebrated cellist Alban Gerhardt.
Pablo Tariman, Philippine Daily Inquirer
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