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Music Review

Evening of Enterprise From Pianist Stein

April 26, 2001|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Leonard Stein is a civic treasure, a living link to a now-fabled time when distinguished residents like Schoenberg and Stravinsky made Los Angeles something of a mecca for 20th century music. Best of all, he's still quite active at 84, constructing unusual, enterprising programs such as the one that closed Piano Spheres' seventh season Tuesday night at Pasadena's Neighborhood Church.

You could hear the gears turning in that mind as you followed the musical links--contrapuntal J.S. Bach (Toccata in E minor, BWV 914) giving way to contrapuntal Schoenberg (Five Piano Pieces, Opus 23), a Chopin Mazurka succeeded by four Mazurkas from Szymanowski's Opus 50 that seemed to take off from the opening line of the Chopin. And there were perhaps unintended links, for Stein played Bach on the piano in a granitic, opaque-toned manner that Schoenberg himself might have recognized from his time, and Stein tightly welded together Schoenberg's atonal miniatures with a similar tone.

For contrast, Stein offered some tough, hazy, contemporary extrapolations of impressionism in the form of three preludes by Dutilleux. He brought us up to the present with a typically knotty 1999 work, Two Diversions--with each hand wandering off in its own rhythm--by another remarkably vital senior sage, Elliott Carter.

As a bookend to the Bach Toccata, Stein closed the printed program with the premiere of "Small Toccata for Leonard Stein," written with computer software by Garby Leon. At first, it sounded indeed like a computer trying to write ragtime, but Stein soon found his way into the piece's spiked humor.

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