Cecile Licad brings dazzling keyboard arsenal to Liszt, American composers

Fri Jan 19, 2018 at 12:54 pm
Pianist Cecila Licad performed at Weill Hall Thusrday night. Photo: Sara Black

Pianist Cecila Licad performed at Weill Hall Thursday night. Photo: Sara Black

Terry Eder’s Key Pianists concert series is full of surprises. Eder, a pianist herself, recruits fine musician who don’t necessarily have the highest-profile careers, and has them play the repertoire that appeals to them most—as opposed to what’s listed on the latest CD of the  musician.

It’s those individual choices that are the surprise and Thursday night’s concert at Weill Recital Hall was an example. Pianist Cecile Licad played music one expects at a piano recital by Liszt, as well as music that one is unlikely to ever hear.

That made for an enjoyable night via the unexpected yet pleasurable pairing of Liszt with Elie Siegmeister and Edward MacDowell.

Licad’s playing of all three composers was superb. First up was Siegmeister’s Sonata No. 1, “American.” The subtitle is a giveaway: Siegmeister was one of the mid-20th century American composers who was working on establishing a national sound in classical music.

The Sonata No. 1 is tonal but very different in style from his contemporary and peer Aaron Copland. Urban rather than rural, bluesy rather than folksy, full of extroverted energy that seems to burst out of crowded, between-wars dance clubs, chrome, cars, and skyscrapers. This sonata is social music, with more than a touch of Gershwin.

Licad’s musicianship was impressive all evening. There were stretches of her playing in the second movement (marked “Moderately slow, with great dignity”), that crowded out time for the contemplation of the music, but she played with a feeling of advocacy that was touching. There is a lot of surface dazzlement in the sonata, but Licad brought out the depths in the piece as well.

After the modern sophistication of Siegmeister, Liszt took a bit to adjust to, but then audiences have been adjusting to the Sonata in B minor for 150 years.

Here, Licad’s musical thinking gave purpose to her attack, articulation, dynamics, and rhythms. Her manner with the funereal opening statement was forceful in the extreme. She eschewed dramatic atmosphere and put her focus into the sheer, wild drama of the notes, the extreme swings of tempo and mood.

Much, if not most, of this music is a display of piano technique, and Licad had it all–speed, force, an easy octave reach. More important was that she had the music itself in her hands. Her lovely, long legato runs expressed the hyper-lyricism of Liszt’s thinking, perfectly capturing the rise of each emotional state, its turn toward the baroque and decadence, and its disintegration and reformation into the next experience.

Despite the energy it takes to play–and for some, hear–the sonata, Licad finished up with a sense of fierce indomitability.

The second half opened with another marvelous curiosity, MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches.

The song-like beauty of “To a Wild Rose” set the scene for the second half, which was a survey of inner landscapes and quiet thoughts. As with Siegmeister and Liszt, Licad approached MacDowell’s ten little movements with a dedication to the specific quality of each, whether pastoral, agitated, sorrowful, or folksy.

In this and Liszt’s Saint Francis Preaching to the Birds, she plumbed every depth she could find.

Licad completed the primary program with an absolutely exhilarating Mephisto Waltz No. 1, in Busoni’s transcription. Every second one was either astonished or slightly terrified by the feeling that she was picking Liszt up and tossing him around as if her were just a toy in a child’s hand. The sense of control at the very edge of control was perfect for the music.

The high point of this fine recital came with the first of two encores. Before her last piece, Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Caprice Andalouse (another rarely heard composer she has made a specialty), Licad played a modest little thing known as “Ondine” from Gaspard de la nuit. Her hands swept up and down the keyboard, creating an immersive and uncanny atmosphere of color and thrills.

Licad’s pianism was excellent throughout, but it was the sense that this music mattered to her that was most striking; there was a little sense of personal urgency to the audience that was quite  moving.

Why else would a musician perform? Cynics might answer, “for the money,” but the point of Key Pianists is that the musicians are performing because that’s what they do and who they are. They breath life into art and share it with the listener.

Mischa Dichter plays the next Key Pianists concert 7:30 p.m. February 21. Facebook.com/KeyPianists

One Response to “Cecile Licad brings dazzling keyboard arsenal to Liszt, American composers”

  1. Posted Jan 20, 2018 at 12:26 am by LAKAMBINI Z RAMOS

    What a wonderful write-up on Cecile Licad’s performance. I feel like I was there myself- but of course, what can one expect, Cecile is a true artist ! Wishing her more performances and successes! Thanks for sharing this on FB.

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