Leon Fleisher – All the Things You Are = BACH: Chaconne (arr. Brahms); KIRCHNER: L.H.; GERSHWIN: The Man I Love (arr. Wild); PERLE: Musical Offerings; MOMPOU: Prelude No. 6 for the Left Hand; KOSTON: Thoughts of Evelyn; KERN: All the Things You Are (arr. Prutsman) – Leon Fleisher, piano – Bridge 9429, 57:27 (7/1/14) [Distr. by Albany] ****:
In 2014, Leon Fleisher, approaching his 86th birthday, completed the present recording – 20-22 August 2013 and 6-7 January 2014 – consisting largely of works for left hand, including one of the pianist’s specialties – Bach’s Chaconne – arranged for left hand by Brahms. The album also features works composed for Leon Fleisher by George Perle, Leon Kirchner, and Dina Koston as well as renditions of favorites by George Gershwin and Jerome Kern. All the Things You Are is Leon Fleisher’s first solo album in nearly a decade.
Fleisher opens with his trump card, the 1879 transcription by Brahms of the Chaconne from Bach’s D Minor Violin Partita, BWV 1004. Brahms treats the contrapuntal filigree as an extended etude that balances staccato lines and legato transitions. The left hand conveys a deep resonance, all the more plastic in its realization of Bach’s contrapuntal lines and hypnotic stretti. How many of us recall how haunting this music appeared to be in The Beast with 5 Fingers, the Robert Florey film (1946) with Peter Lorre, Victor Francen, and Robert Alda, the disembodied hand supplied by Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyhazi (1903-1987).
Leon Kirchner provides a 1995 Left Hand for Leon Fleisher. The score bears an inscription from Emily Dickinson: “Ah the sea! Might I but moor tonight in thee.” Rather in the manner of Scriabin, the piece moves in spasmodic, chromatic motion, atonal in syntax but exotically melodic. Jazz riffs occasionally filter into the mix, along with parlando riffs that add an improvised air to the color combinations.
Fleisher moves to the grandly-arpeggiated Earl Wild arrangement (1976) of Gershwin’s The Man I Love, Wild’s Etude No. 3. Deliciously sparkling, the left hand filigree might remind us of Ravel, cross-fertilized by Billie Holiday’s special rubato. So, too, Stephen Prutsman’s 1987 setting of Kern’s All the Things You Are meanders and muses in amorous recollection, “something to make my heart beat the faster.”
Dina Koston (1940-2009) co-directed the Theater Chamber Players in Washington, D.C., 1968-2003, with Leon Fleisher. She suggested that Fleisher turn to conducting. Koston pays tribute to Evelyn Swarthout Hayes, a pedagogue who founded the Washington Performing Arts Society. The six-minute piece Thoughts of Evelyn (2000) moodily strums and minimally projects snatches of chord clusters and melodic fragments. It might owe a few debts to the Berg Sonata.
Federico Mompou (1893-1987) composed his Prelude No. 6 for the Left Hand in 1930, one among eleven Preludes. His often elusive musical syntax remained a perennial favorite of Alicia de Larrocha. Again, the entire ethos of the piece relies on a sense of improvisation, the assignment of an evolving, parlando musical line that evaporates as it proceeds.
The most direct “homage” to Fleisher comes from George Perle (1915-2009), whose Musical Offerings “In Celebration of Leon Fleisher at 70 For Left Hand” (1997/98) take the form of three (admittedly) “quirky” movements of roughly four minutes’ duration each. A combination of minimalist and serialist applications, the music seems to confirm the Schoenberg principle that music could express itself as “discrete moments in time.” Whether these pieces will endure their “occasional” import will become a matter only other musical practitioners may test on future audiences.
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