Times Staff Writer

What do we expect in the winner of a major international competition for young pianists? Only the ultimate: musical breadth, emotional expansiveness, brilliant and glittery technique and comprehensiveness of spirit.

So, welcome to the real world. Most pianists under the age of 30 do not possess these qualities; to tell the whole truth, most pianists over 30 do not. Thus, it can be no surprise that audiences gathering in any part of the world to hear a recent winner of two years’ worth of concert engagements, a recording contract and more than $12,000 in cash are bound to be disappointed.

The good sports gathered in Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena, on Thursday night took it all in stride when Jose Feghali--winner on June 2 of the seventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth and of all the above-named prizes--made his United States debut, fulfilling the first of many engagements handed him as the top-rated pianist in that event.

They applauded encouragingly throughout the recital, cheered loudly at its conclusion and even remained in the hall for two encores. But their inevitable disappointment could not be disguised.


Feghali, who turned 24 last March 28, is a most personable, accomplished and musicianly pianist. On this occasion he played like the winner he is: with solid technique, consistent respect for differing styles, strong attention to detail and a cool intelligence.

In Haydn’s Sonata No. 52, he produced a well-shaped and clarified reading of an accepted masterpiece, a reading that one guesses would not change much from one performance to the next. Spontaneity and heat do not seem to be part of the Feghali equipment.

In Villa-Lobos’ old-fashionedly jazzy “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 4 (1940), Feghali again shaped a solid musical performance, one that made as attractive as possible the now-thinning veneer of sophistication on the nine-minute piece. In Chopin’s B-minor Scherzo, he played quickly but not convincingly; here, as later, in his first encore, the C-major Etude, Opus 10, No. 1, he demonstrated a Chopin style that seems to consist largely of speed and mannerism.

And in Robert Schumann’s “Carnaval,” the unassuming, black-haired Feghali created, instead of well-defined and contrasting miniatures, a series of pleasant, quiet moments strung together with more bombastic ones. Here, as elsewhere in this recital, varieties of tone and touch were conspicuously absent, as well as any characterful etching of the separate parts. As a result, the final March, which should bring together an accumulation of feeling and dynamics, merely concluded the work.


The second encore was a slow movement from another Haydn sonata, this one in D.