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MUSIC REVIEW : Pianist Jakob Gimpel in Recital at UCLA's Royce Hall

November 09, 1987|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

Heroic memories are the stuff of legend, and it is no exaggeration to reiterate that some of Jakob Gimpel's Southland performances in the 1960s and '70s are legendary.

Such memories were invoked again when the veteran pianist appeared at UCLA's Royce Hall Saturday night--especially of Gimpel's 65th birthday recital in 1971, when he gave a genuinely awesome (the word in those days still had meaning) demonstration of technical powers, aristocratic musicianship and poetic insights at their peak.

In 1987, the year Gimpel turned 81, the playing does not meet that standard. His admired acuteness of musical perspective, tightness of form and immaculate mechanics are dimmed.

Much remains, of course: the urbanity in his playing of Ernst Toch's "Profiles," the mellow and singing tone he produces in a Chopin Nocturne (here, the one in F-sharp, Opus 15), the simultaneous lyric point and emotional detachment he achieves in the same composer's Preludes, Opus 24.

But the thrill is gone.

The vigor and almost sensuous pleasure the pianist took in producing liquid but focused sounds across the entire spectrum of legato and staccato , the gifts he shared for mesmerizing his listeners with concentrated musical thought and projected communication, his sense of order, proportion, finesse and detail--these appeared Saturday in moments, seldom as an entity. Gimpel still plays the piano beautifully, but not as he once did.

The program, characteristic in the strength of its structure, listed Chopin's "Variations Brillantes," Opus 12; the Preludes; the Toch suite; two Debussy Preludes; and more Chopin: the Nocturne and B-minor Scherzo. Gimpel offered an encore in the F-major Etude, Opus 10, No. 8.

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