Making his Southern California debut, Dezso Ranki played a piddling program of Liszt esoterica at Ambassador Auditorium Sunday night.
The 35-year-old Hungarian pianist thus confounded his audience (which filled the Pasadena hall), mystified his critics and made of Liszt, a populist of the strongest stamp if ever there was one, into an object of curiosity and cult status. A footnote instead of a hero.
By any reckoning, Ranki's program was an oddball collection. True, each half concluded with a work representing genuine Lisztian poetry and bombast. Before intermission, it was the "Dante" Fantasy; at the end, it was the first "Mephisto" Waltz. And both of these pieces paired Ranki's deep technical resources, plus his musical sophistication, with the composer's fervid imagination.
Otherwise, this agenda seemed to exhume a number of Liszt's musical nail-clippings--short and apparently unfinished, or at least unpolished, fragments from his weirder compositional moments.
Among these brief but irritating pieces were two quirky Csardas, the second titled "Csardas Obstine"; a Cradle Song in B; a banal Romance in E minor; two little non-gems in F-sharp major; a forgettable Impromptu in C, and a tiny item, shorter than a minute in length, called "Sancta Dorothea." Leonard Burkat's otherwise intelligent program notes explained very little about the origins of these strange musical hors d'oeuvres.
Of greater interest was "Unstern," a piece of occult resonance; the humorous "Carrousel de Mme. Pelet-Narbonne," and two morceaux from the composer's "Mephisto" period: the Fourth "Mephisto" Waltz and the "Mephisto" Polka.
To these, and to the crowning works on each half of his program, Ranki brought exceptional pianistic virtues--a sticky and irrepressible legato, a wonderful, loose-limbed trill, multifaceted finger dexterity and a wide, if not kaleidoscopic, arsenal of touches and dynamics. One waited in vain for all these resources to be used appropriately in, say, a Hungarian Rhapsody. Or two.
But it was not to be. When the time came for encores--and Ranki might have taken three, so friendly was his audience--his listeners were given only a second run-through of the "Csardas Obstine."