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Music Reviews : Piano Recital by Andre Watts Opens UCLA Season

In recent weeks, at least two different recital programs had been announced for Andre Watts’ return to UCLA on Sunday night in Royce Hall. At the event, Watts played a third program, combining some elements of the abandoned ones and adding as his closer the work that has now become his signature-piece, Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy.

Because the celebrated American pianist reportedly had sustained a shoulder injury, one might understand his decision to eliminate the two books of Brahms’ “Paganini” Variations from the agenda. What seemed strange was that the program he finally played remained a heavy and taxing one.

Except that some listeners feel no special need to hear Watts play the “Wanderer” Fantasy twice a year, this appearance gave pleasure and transmitted musical excitement.

Watts achieved heated, stylish performances of both Beethoven’s 32 C-minor Variations and the Sonata in D, Opus 10, No. 3 (two more of his signature-pieces). He plumbed the depths of the ground-breaking Largo e Mesto movement in the sonata with particular conviction, made the subsequent Menuetto alternately graceful and bumptious and gave the ambiguous finale a strong sense of resolution.

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The novelty here was the pianist’s revival of Schubert’s posthumous Three Piano Pieces, D. 946, a set unfamiliar to most concertgoers, but eminently worth discovering. Watts’ affinity for, and expertise in, all of the composer’s pianistic output--including the chamber music--was again proven.

Playing a handsome-sounding Yamaha instrument apparently more resourceful than the one he had brought to Ambassador Auditorium in March, Watts again made the “Wanderer” Fantasy and Brahms’ Four Pieces, Opus 119, all his own. His audience responded lustily.


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