MUSIC REVIEWS : Vlassenko: Technically Correct Performance

Resonances of 1958 continue to echo in our concert halls. That was the year the 23-year-old American, Van Cliburn, changed the musical landscape by winning the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in piano.

Remember the silver medalist that year? Of course you don't. It was 29-year-old Lev Vlassenko (from then-Soviet Georgia), who this week made a belated (!) California debut at the South Bay Center for the Arts at El Camino College.

Now 66, the veteran virtuoso has spent much of these past four decades as a respected teacher (as part of his visit here, he gave master classes at a local piano store, Saturday and Sunday). What he has to teach emerged clearly in his South Bay recital, a program devoted to music by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, with encores by Debussy, Albeniz and Chopin.

Musical astuteness, especial care with styles, note-honesty to a fault and solid technical resources characterized Vlassenko's playing on Friday, presented here by a new venture called Music International Connections.

There was much to admire in the pianist's Beethoven, his playing of the "Pathetique" Sonata and the Bagatelles of Opus 33. Scrupulous detailing and a strong sense of continuity marked these performances. Clearly, Vlassenko knows what he is doing, and has done it countless times.

His playing of five of the "Etudes Tableaux," Opus 39, by Rachmaninoff, also fit that description. Added to our admiration, however, was some dismay. Vlassenko can make a perfectly harsh and unpleasant sound, even on an apparently mellow Kawai instrument. He chose that kind of tone often in these challenging pieces. Since his stridency exists at every dynamic level, there was no escaping its metallic penetration.

Pleasant virtuoso display--if surprisingly charmless readings--marked Vlassenko's playing of the "Liebestraum" No. 3 and the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12.

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