It seemed like old times Saturday at Abravanel Hall.

There were the pianos, eight in number, ranged around the stage. There was KBYU-FM's Walter Rudolph, genially presiding from the speaker's podium. There was the seemingly endless stream of young pianists trotting out to play virtuoso pieces by the usual suspects - e.g., Liszt, Chopin, Debussy and Rachmaninoff.In short, it seemed almost like a glorified Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition preliminary round.

What it was, however, was "A Bachauer Valentine," an all-stops-out celebration of the Utah-based competition that reunited the largest number of past competitors and participants ever, including a grand finale that featured no fewer than 16 of them pounding out a multiple-keyboard arrangement (by Carl Czerny) of Rossini's "Semiramide" Overture.

That's a lot of music, and a lot of pianos. But though I generally find the artistic level goes down as the number of pianos goes up - at least once you're past the four-hand stage - Saturday's audience lapped it up, beginning with an eight-hand rendition of Liszt's "Grand Galop Chromatique," here an exuberant romp.

That was by the American Piano Quartet, composed of Del Parkinson, Jeffrey Shumway, Mack Wil-berg and Paul Pollei, the last of whom happens to be the contest's founder and artistic director.

Nor was it their last contribution to the evening, as they returned, in various combinations, to perform Manuel Infante's "Gracia (El Vito)," William Wallace's "Scherzo in Seven" and the Khachaturian "Sabre Dance."

In their hands the first emerged as an effervescent showpiece, the second as jagged but a trifle dull and the third as clangorously exciting, the sticks they used to accent the driving rhythms being thrown flamboyantly over their shoulders.

Between the circus acts, however, there was also some genuinely impressive musicmaking.

1988 silver-medalist Alan Chow turned in carefully sculpted readings of Liszt's "Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104" and Transcen-dental Etude No. 10, the latter combining clarity, turbulence and breadth, at least in the "Mazeppa"-like main theme.

From 1984 competitor Colette Valentine we heard some ultra-impressionistic Debussy, in this case his "Estampes," at its best perhaps in the nocturnal atmosphere she found in "Soiree dans Grenade."

1976 gold-medalist Douglas Humpherys offered Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz No. 1," not pristine but exciting enough, followed by 1984 fourth-prize-winner Angela Cheng's lickety-split Mozart - here the K. 330 Sonata in C - which, for all its sprightliness, nonetheless found room to sing.

She then joined her husband Alvin Chow and his twin brother Alan in Rachmaninoff's A major "Romance" and A major Valse for one piano/six hands (though they could have used one more to keep the page down), the first broodingly romantic and the second brief but infectious.

After that came Chopin's "Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise," glitteringly projected by 1991/94 semifinalist Anthony Padilla. That earned him a nice ovation, but nothing compared to the one that followed William Wolfram's poetic readings of three Rachmaninoff preludes, climaxed by a darkly glinting G minor Prelude that only gained in strength, brilliance and momentum.

That stood in sharp contrast to a Four-Stooges rendition of Albert Lavignac's "Galop-Marche," during which, amid the clatter and the visual shenanigans, one heard some genuine wit and charm.

Ditto the eight-piano "Semi-ramide" Overture, with conductor Massimiliano Frani managing to keep these sometimes unequal talents together. A "marvelous monstrosity," Rudolph called it, and I agree. But the audience had fun, as did the monster and the ringmaster.