Almost 33 years ago, when Leon Fleisher’s career was in the midst of a spectacular ascent, the pianist was struck by a mysterious ailment that rendered his right hand too clumsy to play. (Long thought to be psychosomatic, the problem was later diagnosed as repetitive stress syndrome.) It was tragic: he was regarded as the most musical and intellectually probing pianist of his generation, an heir to the legacy of his mentor Artur Schnabel. Fleisher didn’t just hit all the notes right; he made everything sound effortlessly logical. Yet his interpretations involved as much heart as mind, which is why his recordings of concerti by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms with the Cleveland Orchestra under the empathic stewardship of George Szell remain indispensable–I’ve gleaned more about what those composers were trying to convey from Fleisher than from any other postwar pianist. For many years after his misfortune Fleisher confined his activities to teaching at the Peabody Conservatory and at Tanglewood. He conducted here and there, though not always with the insight one might have expected. But gradually he’s been making a comeback as a soloist, delving first into the limited repertoire of concerti for the left hand, then in the last three years tackling Mozart’s Concerto in A as well as the challenging Brahms’s First. I haven’t heard him do either of those–though reviews of the Mozart were encouraging–but he has turned Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D for the left hand into a signature piece. The crown jewel in the collection of left-hand concerti commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I, the Ravel is filled with brilliant episodes and virtuosic turns–in fact, it’s so tightly written it can’t really be played with two hands. Fleisher will perform here with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; also on the bill is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, featuring a quartet of up-and-coming singers. Friday, 8 PM, pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Christian Steiner.