Leon Fleisher, piano – The Journey = BACH: Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother‚ Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor; MOZART: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, K. 282; CHOPIN: Berceuse in D-flat Major; STRAVINSKY: Serenade – Vanguard (2 discs)

by | Oct 9, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Leon Fleisher – The Journey = BACH: Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother, BWV 992‚ Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903; MOZART: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, K. 282; CHOPIN: Berceuse in D-flat Major, Op. 57; STRAVINSKY: Serenade in A; BEETHOVEN: Fur Elise, WoO, 59; Bonus Interview with Bob Edwards – Leon Fleisher, piano – Vanguard ATM CD 1796, (2 discs) 60:03; 20:12 ****:

Having only just heard Leon Fleisher (b. 1931) in recital at Le Petit Trianon Theatre in San Jose on October 7, much of the recital material on this program still rings fresh in my mind. Mr. Fleisher, having overcome a debilitating loss of his right hand for forty years, has begun to rework a repertory concomitant with his restored abilities. A former pupil of the legendary Artur Schnabel, Mr. Fleisher comes to the music of Bach and Beethoven (27-30 December 2005) naturally, and his gently strong filigree proves searching and immaculately clear. Even the neo-Classical Serenade (1925) by Stravinsky combines lithe energy and polyphonic detail. A combination of Spartan melodic content and Schoenberg’s aesthetics, the four movement piece has an angular, drily compressed character. Each piece begins and ends on the key of A, and its most memorable sequence might be the folk-like Rondoletto, which plays as a toccata in brisk, staccato colors.

If Fleisher has regained his bravura in more than modest degree, he has never lost his capacity for legato playing, evidenced by the Beethoven and Chopin entries on this disc The gentle triad and dominant seventh of the lullaby finds plastic extension from Fleisher, who negotiates its ever ingenious filigree with a diaphanous dexterity reminiscent of Solomon’s famed inscription. The A Minor arpeggios of Beethoven’s warhorse trip forward into the knotty F Major episode with vigor and resigned caresses. The Mozart Sonata figured large in Fleisher’s early musical training, as he explains in his interview with Bob Edwards. The Bach works – respectively programmatic and “absolute” – show off Fleisher’s flowing and declamatory styles, particularly in the Chromatic Fantasy, where the recitativo assumes a grand, dramatic mass.

In his interview, Fleisher mentions that he had planned to record the works for Vanguard back in the 1960s prior to the onset of dystonia. He sings along with the E Major Capriccio of Bach, when the family tries to dissuade the brother’s leaving for Sweden. Fleisher outlines the chaconne-like bass line in the piece and its subsequent ornamentations. After the postillion comes the fugue. The Mozart sonata harkens back to 1952, when Fleisher had to learn the E-flat Sonata for the Queen Elizabeth Competition, and the Mozart was the “imposed” piece. A minimum number of tones creates melancholy. Fleisher puns on the “Traumatic” Fantasy and Fugue of Bach. The Stravinsky is neo-Baroque – his take on the antique style. Soulima Stravinsky heard Fleisher play it back in Urbana, Illinois. Lastly, Fleisher plays Fur Elise, his musical “blanket.” To try to find the freshness behind familiar works is a challenge. Mr. Fleisher speaks of the journey as more valuable than the enjoyment of the goal – isn’t that Faustian?

— Gary Lemco

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