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MUSIC REVIEW : Kuleshov Debuts With Pasadena Symphony


In the four-year breaks between the major international piano competitions, the musical world at large catches up on the big talents who win--or, sometimes more often, lose--those contests. Southern California caught up with the silver medalist of the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition, Saturday, when Valery Kuleshov made his local debut playing Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony.

But more was going on in Pasadena Civic Auditorium at this fourth concert of the 1993-94 season: Music Director Jorge Mester preceded the Tchaikovsky work--which really ought to go last on any program, as it did here--with worthy and unhackneyed pieces, Stravinsky's "Baiser de la Fee" Divertimento and Prokofiev's cherishable but usually neglected Seventh Symphony.

Both works benefited from a kaleidoscopic perspective and clarified continuity from the podium, wonderful ensemble skills from the orchestra and brilliant soloism, in particular from hornist James Thatcher, cellist Douglas Davis, trombonist James Sawyer and, substituting for the indisposed Dominick Fera, clarinetist Emily Bernstein, among others.

All parts of the orchestra--resplendent brass, authoritative woodwinds, pungent percussion and the splendid core of the ensemble, the strings--seemed to contribute equally.

Kuleshov, 32, proved a rarity among prizewinners: a virtuoso without mannerisms and a Russian conservatory product with middle-of-the-road musical sensibilities.

He accomplished the feat of playing this most familiar of concertos without strain or Angst, and of placing its dynamic peaks and valleys precisely where the composer indicated. His technique is unassailable, his tone multilayered.

Besides going straight to the heart of musical matters with a bracing directness, he produces a pianistic sound one can feel resonate in one's back. No doubt, a called-for recital appearance would tell us more about Kuleshov's individuality, but the name has already been imprinted. Mester & Co. collaborated fully in this success.

With some members of the audience screaming their approval, an encore seemed appropriate. Kuleshov obliged with the finger-busting, unpublished "Carmen" Fantasy by Vladimir Horowitz. After that, the yelling continued.

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