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MUSIC REVIEW : Pianist Feghali in Self-Effacing Recital in Irvine

Call Jose Feghali a good sport. The young Brazilian pianist’s scheduled South Coast Symphony appearance on March 4 was scrapped in the orchestra’s current fiscal crisis, but he gave a recital on Tuesday evening to support the organization. This came shortly after the organization’s last-minute cancellation of the afternoon recital he was scheduled to play for senior citizens, and without prior announcement.

According to orchestra officials, SCS promises to surmount its difficulties and move securely into 1989-90 (see accompanying story). Feghali also shows promise of exceeding his current level as demonstrated, at the South Coast Community Church in Irvine, in works of Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms and Debussy.

Feghali’s evolving art manifests self-effacing respect for each composer’s musical language and concentration on expressive elements rather than on exhibiting runaway bravura.

Actually, the latter isn’t his to give. The extroversions of Chopin’s A-flat Ballade and Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel found the pianist panting a bit after the music instead of riding it with ease.

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The Ballade, begun with almost Mozartean delicacy, proved an architecturally sound interpretation within Feghali’s compass. His not-extraordinary reserves of power, there when needed, fit the scaled-down scope of his work. He barely misses the innate songfulness of Chopin, evoking respectful attention rather than goose bumps.

Brahms’ purely musical requirements were well met: the precisely metrical thematic exposition, the perfect differentiation of Baroque and Romantic elements (rhythmic strictness alongside judicious rubato). The work emerged cohesive in Feghali’s shrewdly gauged perusal, but was compromised by lack of abandon in the big moments and by cumulative fatigue.

The program opener, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, received a cool, unexceptional, stylistically informed reading (barring some odd notions of timing in the first-movement prelude). The sound of the Yamaha instrument seemed lackluster, the Adagio didn’t sing, and it appeared that an evening of musical but distant pianism was in store.

This reckoned without Feghali’s affinity for Debussy, which kindled tone and rounded sonorities in “Suite Bergamasque” while maintaining crispness and clarity in music too often over-pedaled. Nor were the gossamer elements, especially of “Clair de Lune,” slighted in this attractively vertebrate rendition. The long run concluding the Minuet was as purl-like as humanly possible.

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“L’Isle Joyeuse” as encore demonstrated weariness as much as Debussyan charm.


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