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Music and Dance Reviews : Andre Watts Returns to Ambassador

Which Andre Watts did one hear Tuesday at Ambassador Auditorium? That depended on where the pianist was in his recital, an annual affair that has been bringing him to the Pasadena hall for many seasons.

In music well suited to his temperament--and not dichotomized by an arbitrary lyric/vehement separation--he gave integrated readings of spectacular import and flair.

A last-minute program change, for instance, to Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, was unassailable. More important, it proved just the vehicle for his aptly overwrought exhibitionism. A showy work like this, which some have succeeded in plumbing for hidden depths, became utterly viable in Watts’ virtuosic hands.

His clangorous clashings and motoric drive, always convincing, alternated with the soft sighs of limpid, edgeless tone--yet he made a strangely fascinating whole of the work, for the composer himself saw such temperamental divisions as natural.

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For similar reasons, Chopin also fared well. The Ballade No. 2 in F afforded Watts the idiomatic luxury to pursue nostalgia in the lyric motif while giving him his head for ripping, wind-gust bravura.

Where his pianism by the numbers failed was in Beethoven’s 32 Variations. Here the musician’s penchant for breaking a work down to physical components and then assembling each according to format resulted in little more than mannerism, ivory-deep at that.

And while Schubert’s “Drei Klavierstuck” came across with all their garlands gaily tossed, they also had to endure the brash forcefulness and hyper-accented syncopations that betrayed the composer’s genteel sensibilities.

At the end, Watts offered two encores, a Prelude by Ravel and Peter Schickele “Andre Gigue.”

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Postulation: Watts seems to have an easier time locating his tender, lyric persona and turns to caricature when confronted with its opposite. The result is superficially aggressive, lacks subtlety or dimension and gives a rote quality to his playing.


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