Sundry Strokes by Rosalinda L. Orosa, Manila Bulletin

The Oxford dictionary defines tour de force as “a performance or achievement that has been accomplished with great skill.” In the light of Raul Sunico’s recent engagement at the CCP auditorium, we might “improve” on that definition by changing “great skill” to “incomparable skill.” Why? Because it is to be gravely doubted that any other pianist, here or abroad, has duplicated (or can duplicate) Sunico’s feat of playing in succession four Rachmaninoff concertos — No. 1 in F Sharp Minor, No. 2 in C Minor, No. 4 in G Minor and No. 3 in D Minor — brilliantly and without a score — at one sitting.

We might observe further that if No. 1 is replete with swift runs and swifter trills, massive chords and rippling arpeggios spanning the entire length of the piano keyboard, so do the others contain comparatively contain the same awesome technical demands in Rachmaninoff’s typical style.

After the brief intermission, Sunico broke the proper sequence by playing No. 4 and ending with No. 3, this latter to climax the evening, it being regarded as the peak –“unsurpassed by the composer’s previous works, its themes intensely expressive, the mastery of its structure, in general and in detail, unequalled.”

It was Sunico’s logical finale for the Concerto’s mind-boggling pyrotechnics. Having interpreted the three others with their corresponding cadenzas, the pianist’s vigor remained unflagging, his pace kept up with the various required tempi, his tones retained their clarity through the most intricate and complex passages, his power remained electrifying in the thunderous densities of sound. And always, he infused tonal coloring and exquisite nuances into each of the three movements: Allegro ma non tanto, Intermezzo and Alla breve.

In all the concertos, the listener inevitably called to mind that Rachmaninoff was a brilliant pianist who, possessed of extraordinarily long fingers and large hands, adapted his piano works to his own capacities. Thus, he was thoroughly confident as soloist for his Third Concerto (Damrosch conducting) and his Fourth (Stokowski conducting).

Concerto No. 2, with one of its principal melodies popularized by the hit song, Full Moon and Empty Arms, is perhaps the most often interpreted by our pianists; it also regularly appears in the programs of world-renowned concertists. (Cliburn on his visit two decades ago rendered it at the CCP).

Although the Fourth takes a back seat to the Third, it demonstrates a “tranquility,” a “detachment” that differentiates it and lifts it above the other three.  In his interpretation, Sunico made the distinction fascinatingly apparent.

A master at orchestration, Rachmaninoff apportioned to each section an equally formidable part of the score to create a balanced whole. Young conductor Herminigildo Ranera, wielding the baton over the PPO, acquitting himself worthily enough to share in the evening’s unique, unusual triumph.

Summing up Sunico’s own individual triumph, it showed a celebrated international pianist who, possessing incredible talent, stamina, power, artistry and technical mastery dared to play all four concertos of Rachmaninoff because, quite simply, he was fully aware that he could — and yes, with panache!

What was it like listening to Sunico’s unprecedented performance? Several in the audience were literally on the edge of their seats, awed and overwhelmed by the experience. The spontaneous standing ovation was accompanied by applause as thunderous as Sunico’s chords. And the titan kept returning to acknowledge the richly deserved curtain calls.

Ambassador Anatoly and Mrs. Nebogatov having witnessed the towering achievement, it is to be earnestly hoped that the unassuming, gentle, soft-spoken Sunico will receive an official invitation to perform in Russia, there to prove to Russia — and inevitably to the rest of the world — that an immensely gifted Filipino pianist can play the four concertos of Rachmaninoff in succession brilliantly and entirely from memory without catching his breath.

Raul Sunico, Pianist from the Philippines by Bernard Holland, The New York Times

Raul Sunico, a young pianist from the Philippines, played a taxing program of Chopin, Brahms, Ravel and Rachmaninoff at Alice Tully Hall Friday night.  Mr. Sunico may not have seen very deeply into either the Polonaise-Fantaisie by Chopin or the three Mazurkas that followed, but he created warm, clear sound from his instrument, and both his instincts and his ear responded in basically musical ways.

Some runaway tempos in the Brahms “Handel” Variations and the “Scarbo” movement from Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” caused Mr. Sunico intermittent troubles, but “Ondine” and “Le Gibet” were handsomely colored.

His surest playing came in Rachmaninoff’s difficult Second Sonata in B flat minor.

None of Mr. Sunico’s music – except perhaps Chopin – put extraordinary interpretative demands on him, but the depth of the program more or less fit the still unformed musical personality of the performer. For the most part, Mr. Sunico seemed like a talented high hurdler, sailing perhaps too glibly over every obstacle in his path but still managing it all with a certain athletic grace.