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MUSIC REVIEW

Watts Gives a Colorful, Unpredictable Recital

July 12, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

In between this week's presentation of gargantuan, or at least oversize, orchestral works--Mahler's Eighth Symphony and the Verdi Requiem--the offering at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night proved pleasingly downsized. A smallish but attentive audience showed up for Andre Watts' recital in the massive amphitheater.

They were rewarded with a varied, colorful and sometimes unpredictable program, including two agenda-opening chorale preludes by Bach, Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor and Chopin's F-minor Fantasy.

More predictable, though thoroughly pleasurable, were Schubert's "Wanderer" Fantasy, Janacek's Sonata (1905) and salon-pieces by Liszt and Debussy, "Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este" and "L'isle joyeuse," respectively.

Every performance by an established artist becomes a test of that person's present outlook and stamina. This one by Watts--who has been playing at the Hollywood Bowl regularly since 1963--was something of a milestone because of the pianist's recent 50th birthday.

Not to worry: The justifiably celebrated Watts maintains both his spontaneity and his rock-solid reliability. One admires him for the clarity and precision of his playing and the ease of his technique, but also for the freshness and new insights that his playing continues to bring forth.

On Wednesday's program, what was most admirable were the chorale preludes (despite program-starting adjustments by the sound-engineers), the Beethoven, the exposing Janacek work and the "Wanderer" Fantasy, which by now is a Watts specialty.

At the end, the pianist played a single encore, Chopin's "Harp" Etude.

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