Ochanine's masterful Rite overwhelms the audience; Gulyak shares the spotlight


At last week’s CCP concert, Russian pianist Sofya Gulyak, interpreting Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, immediately conveyed the impression of a soloist matching the performance of the orchestra. Conversely, with the Philippine Philharmonic under the baton of Olivier Ochanine matching the performance of the pianist, the audience was thus witnessing one master making music with another.

In the opening Maestoso movement, the magisterial baton-wielding of Ochanine was met with the magisterial interpretation of Gulyak whose technique was comparable to the best this reviewer has heard.

Warmth of feeling characterized the second movement, Adagio, as well as sureness of touch both having been apparent in Gulyak’s earlier recital at Philamlife Theater. Sentiment, devoid of sentimentality, was a lambent depiction of the composer’s essential meaning and substance.

The cadenzas were distinguished for depth of thought and subtle artistry combined with power and intensity evoking diverse moods and emotions. In the final movement, Allegro, both soloist and conductor stressed the grand line without overlooking the smallest musical detail, their maximum effort leading to an exciting concord of sounds.

The first encore seemed like an etude for runs, particularly for the right hand, the swiftness of execution startling for its technical perfection. The second encure, Rachmaninoff’s familiar ‘Prelude’, was grandiloquent in the composer’s usual manner. The piece, described as “a vibrantly graphic miniature drama” was interpreted with a fascinatingly wide range of shifting dynamics.

As for the concert’s second composer, Stravinsky, incidentally a past lecturer in my alma mater (Harvard U.), he has been described by a biographer as “an agitated little man with the will of a giant and a cyclonic temper”. The description is certainly reflected in the composer’s cyclonic ‘Le Sacre du Primtemps’ (The Rite of Spring) which was rendered by the PPO under Ochanine’s baton.

The composition has been deemed “the most important creation of the 20th century”. What was it like?

Firstly, Ochanine conducted the score with a greatly extended ensemble which included such unfamiliar instruments as the tam tam (gong) and the guiro (a serated surface which gives a rasping sound when scraped by a stick).

The work manifested the composer’s totally dry lyrical vein, there not being a single melodious phrase or passage! Its dominant character was its unprecedented rhythmic force, with constantly changing and arresting beats and accents. And volume.

Stravinsky exploited to the utmost the technical resources of the expanded orchestra, harmony making way for hitherto unexplored atonalities, syncopations and dissonances, the rhythm remaining as the work’s main focus and drive - which the Maestro unwaveringly demonstrated.

‘The Rite of Spring’ was thoroughly Russian in spirit, Stravinsky being Russian, as also paganistic and corybantic. Further, his devastating primitivism conjured brutal and barbaric images. Its shattering impact was unmatched then - and now! Stravinsky’s experiment - it had purportedly introduced itself in a dream - brought on an amazing variety of tonalities, none of them melodious, created by screeching strings, exultant blasts and lugubrious, funereal sounds from the woodwinds and brasses, the percussions intermittently pounding in irregular beats - all these producing a cacophony defying description, while the unceasing repetition of the simple themes induced a mesmerizing effect.

How brilliantly the weird orchestral sonorities, constituting the most extreme and electrifying avant-gardeism in Stravinsky’s time, were demonstrated in ours!

It must be remembered that the ‘Rite of Spring’ was composed for a ballet of a pagan ritual involving a young girl dancing to death to appease the gods of Spring, the music ending in fevered frenzy and fury.

Music of such tremendous audacity and originality, music evoking brutality and savagery — this Ochanine interpreted rising to its daunting challenge magnificently, masterfully, drawing hitherto unknown devices from the orchestra imaginatively and authoritatively. He was in absolute command throughout!

‘The Rite of Spring’ was most exhausting to conduct and at its close, the triumphant but obviously weary Ochanine acknowledged the thunderous applause for his astounding, indeed, overwhelming performance on the podium.











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