LEON FLEISHER, nearing 50 years of first-rate public piano recitals, has mused without total seriousness that one day he'll do his memoirs and call it "Eighty-eight Keys and No Lock." Lately, he's joking that maybe he'll call it "My Left Hand."
Saturday night for one hour and 40 minutes of intensely played and felt music, the Baltimore virtuoso showed 500 entranced listeners in the Washington's Kennedy Center why. Fleisher and his left hand interpreted with total musicality six solo pieces for left-hand from Bach to Robert Saxton's 1988 "Chacony" and his part in an Erich Korngold quartet.
It was not only that Fleisher jumped three or four octaves in milli-seconds, made a Bach violin piece arranged for piano sound like an organ, kept his feet in perpetual motion on the pedal or floor, pounded strong chords, ran scales as 100-yard --es and sent trailing notes to drift around the nearly full Terrace Theater for five seconds.
But when observers closed their eyes and made an effort to forget the injured right hand that rested in his lap or occasionally gripped the piano's right end or turned a page (mostly he used a page turner), they heard wonderful complete sounds. Certainly, much sounded like music for two hands. A standing ovation with cheers ended the hour of solos.
The evening was not perfect. For instance, "Prelude and Nocturne" by Alexander Scriabin and Felix Blumenfeld's "Etude in A-Flat Major," the fourth and fifth pieces movingly played, ended with unwanted discordant twanging echoes that made one wince. One or two chords in the Saxton piece seemed shrill.
Fleisher's artistry was otherwise dominant. It included an early trick that partly reflected the conducting career he developed after repetitive motion syndrome struck down his right hand as a piano partner 25 years ago.
Fleisher had scheduled Bach's "Chaconne from Partita II for Solo Violin" arranged by Brahms directly after the Saxton "Chacony," the Americanized version of the French word. Because he felt the one lead naturally into the other, he wanted no applause after the Saxton to interrupt the mood.
In previous recitals before playing, he had asked the audience simply to cool it. Saturday night, he kept his foot on the pedal, the Saxton finale note drifted out and lingered, his right hand reached out to turn the first page of the Bach score that he had secretly hidden at the back of the Saxton and Presto Chango, no applause, and he began playing the Bach. The singing simplicity of the Bach melody with accompaniment by the same hand was gorgeous.
Fleisher handled with great gusto his self-described toughest assignment of the night, devised perhaps by "a sadist," the "Gypsy Baron" melodies of Johann Strauss transcribed by Leopold Godowsky. Other Theater Chamber Players for the vivid 40-minute Korngold "Suite" after intermission were Naoko Tanaka and Hyo Kang, violins, and Evelyn Elsing, cello.