A most riveting concert / A clever version of Cosi

SUNDRY STROKES () - January 25, 2012 - 12:00am

In a most riveting concert at the CCP main theater, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Olivier Ochanine began with Dvorak’s “Czech Suite”.

Its Pastorale subtly suggested bagpipe music; the dances which followed were rather tame, particularly when compared to the Russian or Spanish. The gentle flute and the robust English horn were predominant in the Romance; the trumpet and tympani enlivened the Furiant, the wind instrument impeccably fluent.

In Rimsky-Korsakov’s Concerto for Trombone, Takahiro Ono’s first blast immediately arrested attention, this sustained throughout in slow or fast or extremely fast tempo, and singular variations. Ostensibly in full control, Ono displayed a brilliant, masterful technique that drew out all possible volumes from his instrument.

The rapid pace of the opening movement, the allegro vivace, starkly contrasted with the andante cantabile and its measured phrases. The cadenza was virtuosic in rendition, and the concerto ended in a vibrantly dramatic allegro-allegretto.

The PPO, in the highest gear under Maestro Ochanine, kept perfect rapport with Ono, making the dialogue briskly exciting. Indeed, electrifying!

After Ono’s performance, four other trombonists joined him in a jazzy fascinating piece, conveying their own vastly impressive skill.

The finale was Carl Nielson’s Symphony No. 4. which the composer named “The Inextinguishable” for logical reasons. To the score, Nielson appended: “Music is life and like it, inextinguishable. The symphony consequently was intended to point up the indestructibility not only of great art but also of the human spirit.”

Musicologist Harris Goldsmith describes Nielson’s work thus: “Violent eruptions of brass, tympani, and a recurring note motif in the strings constitute Nielson’s depiction of the forces of discord and evil. At the very end, a passionate reiteration of one of the more serene themes from the first movement triumphantly asserts the victory of the life force. The symphony is first and foremost a superbly rich specimen of absolute music which can be heard with no knowledge of the underlying programmatic implications. It makes a splendid sound.”

Maestro Ochanine, who was in his element, completely captured the essence of the music, what it represented. From the orchestral rendition, I concluded that the music was unpredictable because life is unpredictable; that the music was often inscrutable because life is a perplexing mystery; that the music, created by eclectic orchestral devices, was infinitely disturbing and wearisome because life is a tragedy.

These conclusions were drawn from the tuttis which were alternately forte or pianissimo; from the final tutti that reached a shattering, overwhelming climax to prove beyond doubt the triumph of the inextinguishable human spirit.

The Symphony was exhausting to listen to and presumably, even more exhausting to conduct. Maestro Ochanine, visibly tired, received a richly deserved prolonged applause.

* * *

St. Scholastica’s School of Music headed by Sr. Placid Abejo as dean, presented a unique version of Mozart’s comic opera “Cosi Fan Tutti” at St. Cecilia’s Hall. Vocal coach, the eminent soprano Camille Lopez Molina, prior to the show, explained its nature both as experiment and exercise under the direction of McDo Bolanos, the clever, inventive, imaginative staging retained only the principal characters, eliminating the soldiers, servants, musicians, boatmen, wedding guests, etc. Bolanos likewise did away with sets, costumes and lighting effects. The Italian libretto was retained but the recitatives were in Pilipino. Further, the English translation of the arias, duets, etc. were shown on two screens. (Incidentally in 1940, Jiulliard presented the opera in English.)

The Manila Symphony Orchestra left nothing to be desired under conductor Arturo Molina; the graduating vocal students were excellent singers-actors; tenor Ivan Nery as Ferrando — his volume and sustaining power were compelling — baritone Carlo Falcis as Guglielmo, Myramae Meneses as Fiordiligi, and Iona Ventocilla as Dorabella. Kristine Balingcos proved wonderfully comic as the maid Despina; Ralph Perez, bass-baritone, was the trouble-maker Don Alfonso.

The version, simplified yet retaining its substance, and enormously cheaper to stage will gain wider audiences if other music schools follow suit.

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