Sheep May Safely Graze [from BWV208, arr. Egon Petri]
Capriccio in B flat ‘on the departure of his most beloved brother’, BWV992
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV903
Chaconne in D minor [from BWV1004, arr. Brahms]
Ibéria – Evocación; El Puerto
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op.50/3; Nocturne in D flat, Op. 27/2; Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor, Op.39
Leon Fleisher (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 16 November, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Three years ago, aged 77, both of Leon Fleisher’s hands resumed relaying his commands at the piano. Two fingers on his right hand – neurologically stiffened and intractable since 1965, had responded to treatment. He is now on a world tour.
His presence is bearded and bear-like – an elder, mindful of his age. Steadily and unhurriedly, he settled himself on the piano stool, ensuring that the sheet music sat within sight, taking his time to establish the composure to begin.
After a while, the sublime lucidity of Sheep May Safely Graze began to unroll. The moment was simple and serene: the music was time-less. This arrangement is Fleisher’s calling card. He then leapt into the hustle and bustle of the Capriccio, which depicts an unidentified ‘brother’ leaving on a trip. This vivid scene-painting had plenty of twists and twirls to keep the fingers busy. Fleisher’s right hand was evidently back in business, in fine trim, relishing the fast, fleet activity and exuberant decoration.
We were swept up in the magisterial and manic scrolling of the Chromatic Fantasia, with an attendant, slightly more sedate Fugue. The imposing Bach/Brahms Chaconne gave Fleisher’s right-hand a rest; his left unrolled the arrangement – sombre and dark-hued but sparing and limpid owing to Brahms’s discerning editorial discretion.
Fleisher allowed himself no respite after the intermission. The selection of Debussy’s Préludes presented a spread of styles – a demonstration that all was well with Fleisher’s recovery and that his right-hand can scurry and swirl in pointilistic activity, with a suggestion of more earthy rumblings in the left. In ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ there was rainbow and sunlit sea in the right-hand and sonorous, lost bells calling from the left. In ‘La Puerto del Vino’ – “brusque contrast between violence and impassioned sweetness” (Debussy) – Fleisher clearly enjoyed the biting rhythms.
Fleisher left us with Chopin, for the most part a turbulent, dark Chopin of tormented, surging modulations and singing disturbance, complex and contrapuntal. The frenetic Mazurka, which no-one would dare to dance, reached an angry, anguished climax, whereas the Scherzo hastened towards a sunnier conclusion. In between these two works, both unsettled and troubling, lay the sweet respite of a Nocturne, the left-hand kept busy with light-fingered arpeggios, the right ringing with melody and the delicate filigree of endless, singing decoration, relaxing eventually into serene stillness. Leon Fleisher is a formidable musician.