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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Four Hands
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebeslieder Walzes [24:29]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fantasie in F minor, D. 940 [19:10]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La valse (arr. Lucien Garban) [13:24]
William BOLCOM (b.1938)
Graceful Ghost Rag (arr. William Grossman) [4:59]
Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson (piano)
rec. 23-25 May 2014, Wright Theater, Student Center, University of Baltimore, Maryland, USA
SONY CLASSICAL 88875064162 [62:02]

Leon Fleisher’s 2004 recital Two Hands (review) announced his return from a long battle with a disorder that left him only able to perform with one. That was one of the most moving piano albums of our time; now comes a sequel, Four Hands, recorded by Fleisher with his wife, Katherine Jacobson.

As with the previous disc, Franz Schubert is the focus. The Fantasie in F minor is one of the masterpieces from the last year of his life with its unforgettably heartbroken opening melody. Here, that moment is a little unimaginative in its playing; compare it to the extra mystery and poetry brought about by Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia. The performance does improve, and overall is very good without challenging the best.

We also get Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes, played very charmingly and with as much grace as possible. If the performance sounds hardier and “bigger” than usual that might just be because of the close placement of the microphones. Since eighteen waltzes are not enough, an arrangement of Ravel’s La valse appears, played slightly more slowly than usual, although to me this is very much an asset rather than a complaint. You can revel in every elegantly perfumed detail of this four-hands arrangement.

The lovely encore is a ragtime-style piece by William Bolcom, one of America’s great living composers and a specialist in the rag era. Graceful Ghost lives up to its title by focusing on atmosphere and mystery rather than jazzy abandon.

I am frustrated by Sony’s packaging. Nowhere in the booklet or on the disc does Sony mention that Fleisher and Jacobson are married, the kind of detail you’d think they would want to promote. In fact, there are no biographies at all of either performer. Most irritatingly, on the cover, Fleisher’s name is in bold text, while Jacobson’s is not, implying that she is an inferior partner. That strikes me as a disservice to this couple. Jacobson sits on the right, and Fleisher on the left.

In short, a thoroughly charming recital tailored to the performers’ strengths. A sequel would be nice — the encore could be Barber’s Souvenirs. The Schubert is a good, not great, performance, but this is a satisfying hour.

Brian Reinhart



 

 



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