The decade since Olivier Chassain won the 1988 Guitar Foundation of America Competition and made his Los Angeles debut have been good to the French guitarist in at least one regard. He returned, Thursday at the Cal State Fullerton Recital Hall, with a more fluid, less aggressive style that served him well.
Unfortunately, on this occasion he also seemed a rather aloof and easily distracted artist, battling against apparently unstable tuning and loudly squeaking seats in the audience. There were memory lapses in his opening pair of Ponce pieces and the second half too began unevenly, Nikita Koshkin's "Guitar" emerging only fitfully expressive.
Following his nearly disastrous Ponce, Chassain meandered through three Llobet standards in decidedly nonstandard ways, interesting ideas consistently deflated with awkward hesitations, flaccid in focus and sound.
He seemed to catch fire in Albeniz's "Cordoba," playing with greater confidence and communicative verve. He carried that into Turina's Sonata, although there Chassain's emphasis on eloquence over energy seemed misplaced.
Things began to go dramatically and reassuringly right with a Villa-Lobos group, probably not coincidentally the point when Chassain started using scores. He included Carlos Barbosa-Lima's arrangement of a tune from Villa-Lobos' "Green Mansions" film score and seemed to please even himself with his elegance and ease in this seductive music, extending the set beyond the printed agenda.
Chassain then turned to three of Takemitsu's affectionate, straightforward arrangements of popular songs, "Summertime," "Amours Perdues" and "Yesterday." He produced a surprisingly full sound--surprising in that it was so warm and richly colored that you didn't immediately notice how big it was--which he poured out in liquid phrases, sometimes understated but keenly felt.
He closed with Albeniz's "Asturias," also notable for the flawless finish on the sound, with the strummed chordal accents alive and resonant rather than the purely percussive blast familiar in many performances. As an encore, Chassain offered a poised, nicely embellished Bach excerpt.
Olivier Chassain also performs Sunday, 4 p.m., Cal State Northridge Recital Hall, Music Building, 18111 Nordhoff St., $12. (818) 677-2488.