The late Filipino conductor Redentor Romero—whose “Philippine Portraits” was played at the Carnegie Hall last year during PPO’s New York debut—was given a touching tribute by Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu in his latest Manila engagement.
In a well-received concert, Tomescu dedicated his first encore—Romero’s arrangement of Constancio de Guzman’s “Bayan Ko”—to Romero who introduced him to Filipino audiences.
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.
The violinist and the conductor were last seen together in Catanduanes in 2000 where Tomescu gave a recital with pianist Mary Anne Espina at the Provincial Capitol Lobby.
Romero died in 2001 while Tomescu was playing Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos at the Meralco Theater.
Meanwhile, it was raining cheers and ecstatic applause at the Cultural Center of the Philippine main theater on the night of June 17 with the return engagement 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 under its founder and music director Rodel Colmenar made sure it was one concert like no other as it prepared a program rendered by a 95-strong orchestra.
The big ensemble 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.
Colmenar wasn’t a towering figure all right but he 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 were 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 breathtaking, 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 Romero’s arrangement of “Bayan Ko.”
The audience’s reaction was 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 Pesident, Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso who came with wife, Belen.
The conductor and the orchestra had their own glorious moments in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, 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, the movement intoned that not everything in this life was beautiful.
Overall, 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.