Pianist Fleisher's virtuosity, musicality remain remarkable

November 05, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Kraushaar Auditorium is usually pretty well filled for the concerts of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. Last night it was absolutely packed.

The reason was the evening's soloist -- pianist Leon Fleisher, who played Prokofiev's Concerto for the Left Hand with the BCO and its music director, Anne Harrigan. Ever since the mysterious affliction that deprived him of the use of his right hand in piano performance, the Prokofiev has been (along with the Ravel) one of the mainstays of his concerto repertory. Last night's performance reminded this listener of how tragic was Fleisher's loss of his right hand.

Tragic not for Fleisher -- who has in the past 27 years enjoyed a life (as a conductor, educator and pianist) that is perhaps more fulfilling than the one he might have enjoyed as an itinerant virtuoso -- but for the listener. The man is simply a magnificent pianist who can convince one that a slight piece like the Prokofiev Left Hand Concerto is a masterpiece. One doesn't think such thoughts while Fleisher is actually playing, but afterward it is hard to resist thinking about what a Brahms B-flat concerto from him would sound like now or what his Beethoven opus 111 would be like.

One of the extraordinary things about Fleisher's playing is that at the age of 64 he plays with the athleticism of a young man. The staggering virtuosity one heard last night was just as remarkable as it was 30 years ago.

Even more remarkable was the musicality. Since 1965 -- the kids who are winning competitions today weren't even born then -- Fleisher has been playing the same limited repertory. One could forgive him, therefore, for giving the occasional routine performance. That's never necessary, however. For the half-hour so that the Prokofievan Left Hand lasts (and even though it could easily do without one of its four movements), Fleisher was able to convince 1,000 or so listeners that it was a terrific piece. The pianist got a fine accompaniment from Harrigan and her orchestra, who opened the concert with a sprightly performance of Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks."

The second half was -- to these ears, at least -- less successful. Harrigan programmed Brahms' lyrical Serenade No. 1, and while she led the piece with a good deal of intelligence (her tempos seemed particularly well chosen) and taste, she simply doesn't have enough string players to make this piece sound effective. The large, enthusiastic audience clearly thought otherwise.

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