Ochanine's fiery debut / Fun-filled Dia del Libro
SUNDRY STROKES () - April 21, 2010 - 12:00am

The French-American Olivier Ochanine, only 30, made his debut last week conducting the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra with flair but with no exhibitionism, using the baton on and off. His ability to arouse and hold attention was as obvious as his lively rapport with the orchestra. Each section asserted its presence to the fullest degree: the strings were taut and tense or tranquilly cohesive; the woodwinds and brasses, smoothly efficient and firmly secure; the percussions, alert and precise in thunderous rhythmic beats.

A confluence of cultures and a catholicity of taste were apparent in Ochanine’s selections, these addressed to sophisticated music lovers. The Russian Shostakovich opened and closed the concert with the Festive Overture in A Major and the Symphony No. 5 in D Minor. The French Massenet composed Spanish dances for the Suite from Le Cid; the American Samuel Barber composed his Adagio for Strings at age 28, earning early distinction when no less than Toscanini “premiered” it.

This reviewer has heard this exquisitely lyrical Adagio several times, but never in the manner Ochanine interpreted it. While focusing on melody and form, he held a long sustained pianissimo throughout, ranging from “loud” to infinitely soft, almost inaudible pianissimo, making the superbly controlled rendition an incredible feat in dynamics.

Massenet’s Le Cid Suite consisted of Spanish dances: the fervid Castillane, the gentle, flowing Andalouse; the Aragonaise — its arrangement for piano has made it familiar — was partly repeated in Madrilene, the Suite ending in Navarraise, as spirited and rousing as the French composer could have made it, Ochanine matching its fire. How the stirring martial-like conclusion called to mind the mighty battles Cid fought!

Ochanine thundered his way through the dynamic opening of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, the trumpet and horns, interspersed with a clarinet solo, further bringing it to vigorous, zestful life. The thin, frail-looking conductor created overpowering tuttis which took one’s breath away. These ear-splitting and arresting tuttis were in dramatic contrast with the gentlest, prolonged pianissimos, the remarkable shifts characterizing all the works except Barber’s Adagio which illustrated entirely distinct dynamics.

The Symphony is concededly one of Shostakovich’s greatest works. Strings (the violas and cellos) and the basses conveyed a sweeping first movement. In the second, a scherzo, the cellos, double basses and woodwinds stressed the melodies with utmost expression. In the profound slow movement, the violins and the oboe touched the emotions, and the martial finale, in a shattering climax, set the audience aglow.

The applause was as thunderous as the tuttis, and Ochanine graciously reciprocated with a medley of Filipino airs, Elgar’s “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations, and Dvorak’s “Slavic Dance Op. 48, No. 8”.

The highly auspicious, significant debut presages other impressive concerts under Ochanine’s masterful baton.

* * *

On April 24, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., some 4,000 books will be available for as low as P20 each at the Instituto Cervantes. A rose goes with every purchase. The date marks the death of Miguel Cervantes and Shakespeare who both died in 1616.

IC director Jose Rodriguez says “Dia del Libro” is a day of fun with people finding joy through literature.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., children ages 3 to 12 will paint and read. The vast collection of books, videos, periodicals and audio CD will be available for a membership fee of P770, half price for students and senior citizens.

The movie Una Cosa de Locos starts at 2 p.m.; a poetry contest with European and Filipino poems highlighting Spain’s EU presidency is at 4 p.m. Photo buffs may submit their best photos. Demonstration classes at 12:15 noon and 4:15 p.m. will be for those wishing to learn Spanish. Those wanting to know their proficiency in Spanish will be tested.

At 6 p.m., Raul Sunico and the UST Conservatory will give a concert of Philippine revolutionary songs in Spanish. A Latin party caps the day. Admission is free to all events.

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