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Classical Music | REVIEW

A welcome if belated debut for Andre Watts

The pianist makes his Pacific Symphony bow with an expressive Brahms concerto.

November 15, 2002|Daniel Cariaga | Times Staff Writer

Before our eyes and ears, Andre Watts has gone from being a prodigious youngster to, at 57, an almost-elder American musical statesman. He has become a pianistic icon and expert in his repertory -- Schubert and the Austrian-German composers, mostly -- step by step, over the decades.

Wednesday night, Watts made a belated Pacific Symphony debut in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. With the solid and sensitive collaboration of conductor Carl St.Clair and this accomplished orchestra, he played Brahms' D-minor Piano Concerto in a performance at once vehement, tender and controlled.

This was Brahms at his most expressive. Watts and his colleagues gave us the composer in all his aspects -- Brahms the angry saber-rattler, Brahms the lovesick youth, Brahms the playful bear, Brahms the world-weary traveler. This was a reading remarkable in its breadth and comprehensiveness, passionate and mellow, technically unassailable, powerful and touching. The audience responded to Watts' playing with a spontaneous standing ovation.

The wonder of the evening was that its second half did not prove anticlimactic. St.Clair and his players gave the same care and detailing to a contrasting but equally powerful piece, Prokofiev's massive and beloved Fifth Symphony.

This was a highly polished reading, effortlessly balanced, tight in its continuity. The conductor paced it astutely and the instrumentalists gave it articulate attention and unflagging energy.

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