It was raining cheers and ecstatic applause at the Cultural Center of the Philippine main theater Saturday night with the return engagement of Romanian violin superstar Alexandru Tomescu who was soloist of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) in the highly challenging Paganini Violin Concerto No. 2 in B Minor.
Now observing its 20th anniversary, the MPO made sure it was one concert like no other as it prepared a program that no one could resist and took turns recruiting extra musicians that filled the stage with 95-strong orchestra.
The mammoth orchestra filled the stage as it opened with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture in A Major, Op. 96 and heralded a sound as solid as it was focused.
He wasn’t a towering figure all right but conductor Colmenar asserted his power by mustering a huge sound that signaled the orchestra was all set for a big celebration.
As it turned out, it was a perfect overture before the Paganini Second Concerto to which music lovers came in droves and filled the CCP main theater.
As it were, ominous tremolos greeted the opening of the first movement (allegro maestoso) and surged to reveal an orchestra – long absent from the classical scene — ready for a big revelation.
Sharp and well-defined were the striking eight notes of the string section and soon enough, you see the pyrotechnics that made this concerto almost a killer one for the less gifted violinist.
It was also a big test for the orchestra as it figured along with soloist in jaw-dropping glissandos, triplets and what have you and on to rapid change of time measure which Colmenar hurdled even as the rhythmic thrusts was almost dizzying to contemplate.
There were nervous moments of course as one expected the hunting horn motif which could turn awry with even a slight shortage of breath.The adagio was a virtual contrast as it brought back the magic of Paganini as the movement essayed piquant grace and intimacy.
Tomescu was at his best in the first two movements and soared even higher in the last movement (Ronde a la clochette or La Campanella).The sound of La Campanella (the little bell) highlighted the last movement with every repetition of the main theme.
Tomescu revealed his steady and solid pizzicato and some breath-taking gently flowing passages with the orchestra at his beck and call and promptly at that.
It was easy to show off in this movement but the soloist heeded the composer’s intention that the piece was indeed meant to showcase individuality in the melodic style rather than a show of technical virtuosity.
Here we see the soloist in his most sublime moments and towards the end, the CCP main theater shook with ecstatic applause. The performance was electrifying and the soloist was probably recharged and humbled by this spontaneous show of affection from Filipino audiences.
Happily, he obliged with three encores one of which was Redentor Romero’s arrangement of “Bayan Ko” which he dedicated to the late Filipino conductor.
With the applause not showing any sign of ending, he played Caprice 16 by Paganini and still the shouting for more wouldn’t stop.
He played the last encore, the Polish Caprice by Grazyna Baczewicz and the audience was somehow mollified.
Indeed, the audience reaction bordered on sheer pandemonium. One needed a gratifying evening like this to show people Filipino musicians are worth dying for.
In the audience was the new CCP president, Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso who came with his wife.
On the other hand, the conductor and the orchestra had their own glorious moments in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony which was a fitting finale to a glorious night.From the first to the last movements, Colmenar was in control although one thought he could use some extra sharpness and precision at the end of every movement.But the passion was there, the fate motif was heroically delineated and indeed it intoned that not everything in this life was beautiful.
On the whole, this concert showed this orchestra is worthy of everyone’s support from its Filipino audiences to the government through its cultural arms — the CCP and NCCA.
The concert brought back excitement for the violin as Tomescu showed a level of playing that was by turns mature and distinguished even if the concerto was — any way you look at it — a bravura warhorse with big temptations to show off.
All told, it was a magical Saturday night at the CCP.
As part of his latest Manila visit, Tomescu — last heard in Manila in 2006 — visited the grave of conductor-composer Redentor Romero before the performance.
Romero – whose composition “Philippine Portraits” was played at the PPO Carnegie Hall debut last year — was the one who introduced him to Filipino audiences.
The violinist and the conductor were last seen together in Catanduanes in 2000 where he gave a recital with pianist Mary Anne Espina.
Romero was in awe of islanders who described Tomescu’s Catanduanes performance as the “concert of the century.”
A year after that island visit, Romero passed away while Tomescu was playing Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos at the Meralco Theater.