Instrumentalist - Piano
Acclaim
Cecile Licad delivers memorable intensity in adventurous Festival Miami program

Pianist Cecile Licad played with deep-seated intensity at her venturesome recital program Sunday afternoon at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall in Coral Gables.

The Festival Miami program began with the set of Woodland Sketches, Op. 51 (1896), by Edward MacDowell. Licad portrayed the American imagery with a nimble technique and displayed her whimsical musical persona.

Ferruccio Busoni’s American Indian Diary (1915) was inspired by a former student who collected Native American music, and the Italian composer incorporated the native melodies into the music. Licad often used heavy pedaling, emphasizing the restless, blurred imagery in the music. The mixture of brusque, metallic low sounds with Chopin-like arabesques created a fantastic sound world—anything but the typical “folk music” setting.

The Sonata in C Minor, Op. 21 (1895) by Cécile Chaminade presents a truly Romantic spirit. Licad played the sweeping, forceful music with a hurried tempo, moving beyond a focus on the technique to present an emphatic, persuasive statement.

A set of five different pieces by the nineteenth-century American-Brazilian composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk included the Grand Scherzo, Op. 57; Ballade No. 6, Op. 85; La Jota Aragonesa (Caprice Espagnol), Op. 14; Manchega, étude de concert, Op. 38; and Souvenirs d’Andalousie, Op. 22.

This sampling highlighted Gottschalk’s synthesis of European tradition with North and South American music. Stride piano parts merge with South American rhythmic syncopations and high Romantic piano literature. Souvenirs d’Andalousie was a particular standout, with Licad’s light-hearted spirit coming through in these playful sketches of the Spanish region.

William Mason’s Silver Spring, Op. 6 was an exquisite technical showpiece for Licad. She emphasized the intricacy of the hand-over-hand passages, and her playing in the extensive upper reaches of the instrument was equally polished.

Licad’s performance of Leo Ornstein’s Piano Sonata No. 4 (1918) was undoubtedly the highlight of the afternoon. Ornstein, famous in the early twentieth-century for character works such as Wild Men’s Dance and Suicide in an Airplane, had a reputation of over-reaching the threshold for acceptable limits of performance.

This fierceness, on the verge of savagery, was precisely what made him immensely popular. The sheer volume of sound, as a mammoth enlargement of Debussyian harmonic language and fin de siècle chromaticism, is what gives works like the Fourth Sonata an almost cataclysmic effect.

Licad’s wielding of the overloaded harmonies, the mystical Scriabin-like tonal wanderings, and the overwhelming pathos that pervades the work, was nothing short of virtuosic. She rose to the challenge of the final movement’s jarring montage of former themes in the sonata.

The almost bebop-like presentation in this movement was wrought with the sort of improvisatory freshness that gives Ornstein’s works such an original sound. Licad pushed through the macabre material at a breakneck pace, eliciting the feeling of utter desperation. Licad’s performance of the Ornstein sonata stood as a passionate testament to the work of a largely forgotten composer.

Three short encores followed the performance, including two impressive Gottschalk pieces, Le Bananier (The Banana Tree) and Pasquinade (Caprice), along with Earl Wild’s lush arrangement of George Gershwin’s Embraceable You.

Richard Yates, South Florida Classical Review
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