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MUSIC REVIEW : Swansbourne Piano Recital at Chapman’s Salmon Hall

Times Staff Writer

Pianist Clive Swansbourne offered a distinguished recital Tuesday at Chapman College in Orange, triumphing over problems with the new 9-foot Kawai grand available in the Salmon Recital Hall.

To be sure, a “soft” pedal with squeaky action that could be mistaken for a baby’s whimper persisted throughout the program and disconcertingly telegraphed the pianist’s shifts to a quieter dynamic and change in tone color.

But at least the overly bright, hard, glassy tones--particularly in the upper range--that had marred the first half of the program were somehow muted by moving in the music rack during intermission.

Thereafter, Swansbourne could capitalize on his talent for richly varied touch and tone.

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Earlier, you might say, he was robbed.

“Le baiser de l’enfant Jesus” from Messiaen’s “Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus” had been characterized by lapidary finger work, clarity and balance in dense chordal passages and a strong sense of structural logic. But the hard, top brilliance kept him from evoking much sense of atmosphere or drawing from the composer’s Debussy-indebted tonal palette.

Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, similarly, had received impetuous drive; lean, clear and muscular playing, clarity of architecture and structural line. But the work remained stubbornly uncompelling, lacking inwardness and yearning, although fireworks seemed to lurk just under the surface.

Swansbourne came into his own with a poetic, rhapsodic account of Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertanze.” Here he moved easily and unfazed among the composer’s mercurial moods and technical challenges, from bold extroversion to elegant introspection, from impetuosity to delicacy, from spiky rhythms to finely spun suspensions. It was a fine, fresh-sounding interpretation and perhaps most impressive in moments of rolling, full-throated Romantic expressivity.

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The pianist was no slouch in the virtuoso department, either, showing a flair for sonorities in Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-sharp minor, Opus 32, No. 11, and “Etude-tableau” in D, Opus 39, No. 9.

Swansbourne had prefaced all the selections by speaking from the piano. He offered two encores: one of Schubert’s “Moments musicaux” and a Scarlatti Sonata in D.

Clive Swansbourne will conduct a master class in piano at 7:30 p.m. today in the Salmon Recital Hall at Chapman College, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Admission: $4. Information: (714) 997-6871.


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