ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates the beauty of OPM
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2014 - 12:00am

I look at the title Decades Of OPM and, I think, this is not enough. Pilipino music is so rich, a veritable treasury of great compositions. This is just the tip of the mountain. Hopefully, there would be more similar recordings in the future. 

Then I take a look at the contents of the album and I think, how fortunate that Gerard Salonga has the ABS-CBN orchestra. I see him as a boy with the best toy in the world and he has all those beautiful Filipino melodies to play with. Having the opportunity to create new arrangements for these songs and conducting an entire orchestra to bring them to life, I’ll say that this guy is having the time of his life.

Orchestras have become so rare these days in the Philippines. Those who care about having an orchestra are so poor that they cannot afford to have one while those with the means would much rather invest the money in a sports team.  So you only find orchestras either in music schools or at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Would kids today believe that there was a time when singers recorded with a live orchestra when a missed note can generate raised eyebrows from 20 players and a reprimand from the conductor? Really an entire orchestra!

Song accompaniment nowadays is mostly programmed on computers. They do a good job. I must say more than adequate. In the hands of an expert playing music this way can be an art in itself. They also have almost the same effect and are very inexpensive. But nothing really compares to having a full orchestra play in recordings. Just knowing it is an orchestra out there already feels so luxurious. And when you hear all those instruments come together, the effect is truly magical.

Gerard’s words in his liner notes say something about why he wants to make this magic happen. “As listeners on the radio, we are of course naturally drawn to the vocal performances and lyrics of these tunes, and I wanted to present them in a different light, with an orchestra playing them without vocals or words, so people could appreciate the utter beauty of these melodies, and how they are able to stand up on their own.”

They do more than stand up on their own. This is one album to be kept and appreciated for years and years. There are a couple of missteps. I do not know how a duet of After All by Martin Nievera and Vina Morales landed in the line-up.  Great singing, great song from one of my favorite movies, Chances Are, but not Filipino at all. Another one is that Daniel Padilla sadly lacks the suave baritone of Vic Sotto and the rock vibe of Mike Hanopol that are so imprinted in those VST & Co and Hagibis tunes in the album’s OPM Dance Suite. It is difficult hearing them from another voice. But those are minor lapses really. Everything else is fabulous.

Gary Valenciano is in great form taking on the Rico Puno classic Kapalaran. So are young divas Yeng Constantino in her own Hawak Kamay and Angeline Quinto in the Himig Handog Suite, a show-stopping medley of Hanggang, Kung Ako Na Lang Sana, Hindi Na Bale and Anong Nangyari Sa Ating Dalawa, all finalists in the Himig Handog song contest. Martin Nievera and Piolo Pascual turn in expressive renditions of the Rey Valera classics Kung Kailangan Mo Ako by Piolo and Maging Sino Ka Man by Martin.

Rey figures prominently in the album because of this Suite of his compositions that Gerard arranged including Pangako, Tayong Dalawa and Kung Tayo’y Magkakalayo. I have heard these songs in various treatments these past many years.  These range from the istambay sa kanto with his guitar to the sublime like the Willy Cruz arrangements for Sharon Cuneta.  But I have never heard the elegance of Rey’s melodies showcased in as impeccable a setting as Gerard’s arrangement. This is the work of a master.

Come to think of it though, maybe I feel heady because coming across an orchestra recording by Filipinos is so rare these days. This is the first one since the defunct San Miguel Orchestra of some years ago. Or maybe simply because, Gerard is really at his best when arranging for an orchestra. But the standout cuts in Decades of OPM are the instrumentals. I am sure that listeners will also be moved by the soap opera theme Mula Sa Puso, by the perky Pinoy Big Brother theme Pinoy Ako, the sweet standard from Jose Mari Chan, Please Be Careful With My Heart and George Canseco’s dramatic Langis At Tubig

And it is really nice to find Louie Ocampo playing the piano in Vehnee Saturno’s Be My Lady. Louie is like the orchestra in this country. He used to play the piano remarkably and was on his way to creating extraordinary orchestral arrangements.  Then he discovered he can be quite good with technology and programmed all his arrangements. Nowadays, the only time to find him playing the keyboards is as a musical director in a concert. So I am really glad that Gerard got him to sit down at a grand piano for this one. Or did he? I dread to think that Gerard was accompanying one of Louie’s computers.

Anyway, all you Filipino music lovers, get a copy of Decades Of OPM. This one is a real keeper.

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