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MUSIC REVIEW : Spanish Pianist Makes Belated Ambassador Debut

September 25, 1993|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A little good news, a little bad: Returning to Southern California after 10 years away, Joaquin Achucarro showed an enthusiastic audience in Ambassador Auditorium what the shouting has been about all these years. Not a lot of people here have heard the Spanish pianist, who played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1969 and 1976, then gave a single recital at El Camino College in 1983.

Those who did hear Achucarro on those three occasions remember a pianist of broad authority, kaleidoscopic resources, easy virtuosity and poetic bent. The good news, as shown in the second half of his Pasadena recital, Thursday night, is that his playing retains all these virtues.

In a generous sampling of finger-knotting Spanish music by Granados, Ravel and Albeniz, the 56-year old musician--still a resident of Bilbao but a regular commuter to Dallas, where he serves on the SMU faculty--sailed effortlessly through technical hurdles, musical conundrums and textural challenges.

He made "El amor y la muerte," from "Goyescas," utterly rhapsodic and spontaneous, as if he were improvising both its intimacies and its aggressions on the spot. He re-created the pungency of "Alborada del Gracioso" in well-chiseled details. He revived Leopold Godowsky's notorious transcription of the Tango in D in a haze of insinuating tone and with irresistible rhythm. He found all the nostalgia in "El Puerto," from "Iberia." And he unraveled the convolutions of "Navarra," unfurling the melodic glories hidden within.

Before intermission, things were not the same. Achucarro's playing of Brahms' "Schumann" Variations, Opus 9, lacked focus--as they had not 10 years ago--and integration, though they were couched in the most suave of piano sounds.

His mind seemed to be elsewhere during Schumann's daunting Symphonic Etudes, which he traversed dutifully and without untoward incident, and also without the poignancy or excitement he found later in the evening.

At the end, in his first encore, there was a perfectly magical recounting of Scriabin's Left-Hand Nocturne. The subsequent, unscheduled program additions were reported to be Chopin's "Posthumous" E-minor Waltz and a single, unidentified Prelude by the same composer.

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