In a sense this disc
represents some kind of modern-day miracle.
The story of Leon Fleisher is well-known
in Classical circles – struck down by
focal dystonia in 1964, thanks to modern
medicine (Botox, of all things), Mr
Fleisher, in June of this year, was
able to put down this studio recital.
At first glance it
looks on the bitty side, a few shards
leading up to Schubert’s massive D960.
Yet each ‘small’ offering is perfect
The two Bach arrangements
bring to mind recent exposure to pedagogue
Hubert Harry’s live recordings on the
Royss Music label. These arrangements
have real integrity as music within
themselves, and Fleisher excels, shading
the chorale melody in the Hess marvellously
and evoking shepherds’ pipes nicely
in the Petri. Scarlatti is a logical
way to continue, and here Fleisher has
chosen one of the most famous of all
the Sonatas, beloved of many, including
Horowitz and Uchida, who has used this
E major Sonata as an encore. Fleisher’s
ornaments are not exactly spot-on, yet
interpretatively he proffers an alternative.
Rather than a processional, this is
as delicate as lace, shorn of ringing
bass notes intended to imply a harpsichord’s
‘buzzing’ lower reaches.
The choice of Chopin’s
Op. 50 No. 3 Mazurka is stimulating.
This is a quirky piece, and Fleisher
underlines the sadness. The Op. 27 No.
2 is certainly familiar ground. Fleisher
plays it meltingly, with sonorous bass;
compare and contrast Pollini’s sovereign
HMV account from early in his career.
It makes a successful contrast to the
delicate Debussy that follows.
So to the magnum opus
of the recital. If Fleisher is not quite
as rapt as Uchida on Philips (a superb
reading, and certainly the finest of
the modern age), his view is equally
valid. Fleisher’s tone is beautiful
and there is a sense of (unhurried)
forward movement from the very beginning.
Subsequently he is open to the dramatic
and unafraid of using a large sound.
More important is the fusion of long-range
vision (essential) with local contrasts,
detail and colour. The first movement
lasts 20’47 alone (he takes the exposition
repeat), but there is plenty of incident.
Hear the way he takes the left-hand
trill around 5’20 gruffly impatient,
or the throw-away arpeggiation/spread
at 19’10; unpedalled, when most do.
The slow second movement
vies with Uchida in terms of sheer mesmeric
power. Here is Winterreise for
solo piano – maybe the loneliness and
bareness struck a chord in Fleisher’s
soul. Fleisher shows Schubert’s bleaker
side to us full-on, the true
pianissimo of the close unforgettable.
There is real ‘delicatezza’
(as Schubert indicates) to the third
movement, but what is interesting is
the way the shifting accents of the
Trio are ambiguously placed between
play and angst. The music melts back
into the Scherzo.
The finale does not
disappoint. The way Fleisher has clearly
thought about every note in the left-hand
reflects an attention to detail that
is the result of a lifetime’s contemplation.
At full price, though, documentation
is minimal. No timings and a minuscule
essay, no more, Fleisher deserves better.