Cecile Licad’s first piano teacher was her mother, who began teaching her daughter when the child was aged only three. Licad’s progress was so great that by the age of seven, under the tutelage of Rosario Picazo, she made her orchestral debut with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.
At the age of twelve, Licad went to the United States of America where she studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Mieczysław Horszowski, Seymour Lipkin and Rudolf Serkin, receiving the award for most outstanding student. From Curtis, Licad went to Rudolf Serkin’s Institute for Young Musicians in Vermont where she studied with him for five years. After a performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa at the Tanglewood Festival, Licad began her performing career in 1981 in a concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta. In that first season of concerts, Licad also performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, and those of Washington, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Montreal, San Francisco, Japan and Hong Kong. In the same year she won the Leventritt Gold Medal and appeared in a televised concert with Georg Solti playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23. Licad has toured in many countries including Canada and Australia and those of Europe, North America, and the Far East, her third tour of which was with the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Charles Dutoit.
Her debut recording, made for Sony in February 1983, was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Claudio Abbado. She recorded Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18 and his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43. These are thoughtful, sensitive, musical readings with perhaps not yet a big enough weight of tone to compete with such an orchestra. Her lightness of fingerwork in the last movement of the concerto is particularly impressive. The Rhapsody is fleet, scintillating and rhythmically pointed, the melody of the famous eighteenth variation beautifully moulded in an unaffected natural vocal style. Licad’s next disc for Sony was of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21 by Chopin and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 by Saint-Saëns with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and André Previn; here, her wonderful lightness of touch is highlighted in the Scherzo of the Saint-Saëns concerto. In 1988 Licad accompanied violinist and fellow Curtis student Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in a disc for Angel on which they played Franck’s Violin Sonata in A and Brahms’s Sonata No. 2 in A major Op. 100. Licad’s pliable style makes her the ideal partner in these works, and the Franck is given a dramatic and rhapsodic performance. With the same violinist, and cellist Antonio Meneses, Licad recorded piano trios by Brahms and Tchaikovsky, also for Angel. In 1989 she recorded a solo disc for Sony of Carnaval Op. 9, Papillons Op. 2 and the Toccata Op. 7 by Schumann.
In 1997 Licad accompanied flautist Patrick Gallois in some works by Beethoven for Deutsche Grammophon’s Beethoven Edition and the following year the Music Masters label in America issued two CDs. The first is of Chopin and contains the Études Op. 10 plus a nocturne, ballade and scherzo. There is some strong playing in the first of the études, but the rubato and slow tempo of the Nocturne Op. 15 No. 1 may upset some listeners. A critic wrote in The Gramophone magazine, ‘…Licad plays with a character and commitment entirely her own; a far cry from today’s more fashionable austerity and circumspection.’ He hoped there would be more recordings to follow, and there were, with the second disc of works by Ravel including Gaspard de la nuit, the Sonatine and Le Tombeau de Couperin. However, his review began: ‘They don’t come stranger than this.’ He found the disc idiosyncratic and eccentric, but Licad plays these works in a way that is unusual, concentrating on a very warm tone and using a lot of sustaining pedal. It gives the music a somewhat Edwardian fin de siècle atmosphere, a warm and nostalgic flavour that will not appeal to some.
Licad’s most recent disc is of works by the American composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk. These technically demanding works, written when pianos had a much lighter and easier action, are often taken by Licad at fast tempi. Eight of the sixteen tracks were recorded live on this disc released by Naxos in 2003, the rest recorded a few days before the live concert.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).