Instrumentalist - Piano
Chopin evokes substance of style
We hear a different Chopin from what our elders heard. The music is more direct, edgy, and muscular. The poetry is there, but the urgency of it is even more clear-eyed, more intense. The subtle differences have emerged as all the elements of life have changed around the music.

Cecile Licad made that point in her recital Friday at the Philosophical Society. The center of her program - designed to reveal evolutions of style in time - comprised the four Chopin scherzos. She began with the first and spaced the others in chronological order through her explorations of Scriabin and Liszt. Through the mystical clouds of Scriabin sonatas, and the fanciful "legends" of Liszt, the Chopin works were the mileposts showing exactly how far style has edged in preserving epochal works.

The pianist exemplifies the style. Her focus is the instrument. If Licad's listeners want to join her, they are welcome, and on Friday were assured glimpses of passion that colored her highly objective playing. She skirted excessive freedoms in the Scherzo No. 1, and rattled some thunder in its landscape. The Scherzo No. 4, just before the Liszt closer, replaced thunder with grandeur and some delicacies that caught the solidity of her approach. Her playing carries the weight of authority and the absence of doubt. This is the way it is, that last scherzo proclaimed.

The middle pieces were marked with thoughtful pacing, a range of sound, and perceptive details. It was the fourth, however, that collected Licad's best thoughts on Chopin.

Scriabin's music is the mystical end of Chopin's piano tradition. In it, tonalities refuse to form clearly; motifs crack and dissolve. Licad's playing of the Sonata No. 5 stressed outlines rather than inner solutions, but in the Sonata No. 10, she created some magic to complete the aurora of other worldliness. The opening bars - could they have been struck like other keyboard notes? - shimmered and vaporized. The shadings and tints that followed lifted the work beyond mere pianism and into what appeared to be a private place in Licad's iconography.

In all this weighty discussion, Liszt's legends were private jokes and pleasantries. "St. Francis' Sermon to the Birds" revealed the pianist's quickness and wit, for the chirps and twitterings balanced irony and virtuosity. She splashed the second, "St. Francis de Paolo Walking on the Waves," with stylish assertiveness, calling up highly visual scenes with emphasis that seemed almost spoken.

Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer
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