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MUSIC REVIEW : Feltsman at Ambassador

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Mussorgsky’s finger-busting “Pictures at an Exhibition” is a work virtuoso pianists haul out when they want to show their chops. And their resources at the keyboard. Many succeed.

Vladimir Feltsman, who has now used the familiar suite twice, in recitals at both the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center (in January, 1989) and Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena (Wednesday night), does not exactly fail. He certainly sails through the piece, conquering its technical challenges gamely and indicating the scope of the composer’s vision.

Still, he does not take one’s breath away with his achievement, or thrill the listener with his coloristic palette, or reflect glory on Mussorgsky’s imagination. He merely gets through, neatly and competently.

Why should he play the work at all, then? One tends to wonder.

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In his first Pasadena appearance, the 38-year old musician--who came to this country in 1987 in a blaze of publicity--actually presented himself in a better light than he did 16 months ago.

Of course, the 1,200-seat hall at Ambassador College flatters, rather than dampens, the sound of a grand piano, and creates an ambience of warmth and security for a recitalist. Pianists tend to sound their best in this atmosphere. And audiences feel close to the performer.

Thus it was that Feltsman could show his best side in his playing of Busoni’s much-loved (by pianists) transcription of Bach’s D-minor Chaconne, which opened this recital.

Here, he displayed a structural integrity one has sometimes missed in his playing; and, here, his penchant for overusing the pedal could be forgiven, because it worked toward the success of this particular piece. No one can pretend it is echt Bach; what Busoni created is a wondrous, Romantic canvas of Bachian inspiration. Feltsman made it shine.

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