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Music review: Philippe Entremont performs among the Renoirs at LACMA

March 28, 2010 |  2:31 pm

Philippe Entremont, now 75, made a rare Los Angeles recital appearance Saturday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum, offering a program of Debussy and Ravel that would have tested the stamina of a pianist half his age.

The concert, linked to LACMA’s exhibit “Renoir in the 20th Century,” was sold out. No wonder. What a lovely idea for a spring night. After a Champagne reception, patrons were encouraged to wander around the show, which also includes works by Bonnard, Matisse and Picasso. The program began half an hour late. No one complained. And gallery privileges continued during an extended intermission and after the recital.

In the first half, Entremont took a burly approach to Debussy’s “Images,” Book 1; “For the Piano”; and four selections from Preludes, Book 1 -- all of which seemed oppressively loud. Blame it partly on the reverberant venue. He played a Yamaha piano on a raised platform in a low-ceilinged room surrounded by Renoir paintings. With no place for the sound to bloom, it boomed.

Nevertheless, there was something heroic about Entremont’s efforts. Performing from memory, the veteran pianist lost his way in the tricky concluding Toccata from “For the Piano,” so he improvised a brief holding pattern until he got back on track. He used the reverberant gallery to his advantage in a haunting rendition of Debussy’s Impressionistic “The Engulfed Cathedral.” After intermission came Ravel. He revealed intriguing inner details in the “Sonatine,” but his account of “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” pretty enough, seemed disjointed and rushed.

The static, eerie scene painting in the central “The Gallows” of “Gaspard of the Night” forced Entremont to slow down. But the diabolically difficult concluding “Scarbo” brought out the best and worst in the pianist. His sound was still too big for the room, but one had to admire his ambition. Even his encore, a heavy “Fireworks,” perhaps the most technically treacherous of Debussy’s 24 Preludes, showed an older artist not yet willing to settle for the easier charms of “Clair de Lune.”

-- Rick Schultz

Photo: Entremont and Renoir's "Yvonne and Christine Lerolle Playing the Piano," 1897.  Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times