Fleisher brings out best in night of triumph


May 15, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

As "one Hall of Famer to another," Brooks Robinson presented a collection of Orioles gear - bat, cap and T-shirt - to an obviously delighted Leon Fleisher Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

It was the prelude to a celebration by the Concert Artists of Baltimore of the brilliant pianist's milestone season - he's 75. Fleisher, who a few years ago became the first living pianist to be inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in Cincinnati, returned the favor by hitting one out of the hall.

His performance of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 defied the laws of neurology. Fleisher's career, launched six decades ago, was derailed in 1965 when his right hand was struck by a disorder called dystonia.

Although he remained a keyboard force, championing the left-hand repertoire, he never lost the hope of resuming his two-hand career. Periodically, with the help of one therapy or another, Fleisher attempted to do just that. The results in the 1980s and 1990s were uneven.

One piece, in particular, that Brahms concerto, proved out of reach. A 1998 performance of it I heard him give with the Florida Philharmonic was more notable for the heroism than the actual notes, which often spread into blurry approximations.

But a few years later, Fleisher enjoyed unexpected relief from his right hand's neurological troubles in the form of Botox injections. Since then, his occasional re-entries into the two-hand arena have proven increasingly successful.

Even allowing for some rough patches of articulation, Thursday's performance was a personal and musical triumph. The event had all the come-from-behind, beat-the-odds energy of an inspirational movie - a little bit like Shine, only with a truly great artist as the hero.

Fleisher's big smile and high-fives for conductor Edward Polochick afterward, not to mention the hearty, long-lasting roar from a good-sized crowd, completed the Hollywood ending.

Throughout the concerto, the pianist produced plenty of tonal power as needed, but was more interested in making music than an impression. His broad tempos never seemed calculated for ease of execution; instead, the extra room allowed him to explore the music's light and dark elements in consistently arresting fashion.

Fleisher achieved sublime beauty of phrasing in the Adagio (which persistent coughers in the hall did their best to destroy), while the outer movements contained considerable drama and thrust.

Polochick was an ever-supportive collaborator, the orchestra assured and dynamic.

The program opened with an under-appreciated, powerfully anti-war piece by Vaughan Williams, Dona Nobis Pacem. Polochick tapped the music's drama and lyrical richness; he ensured a remarkably hushed, poignant effect at the very end.

The Concert Artists' Symphonic Choir was in excellent form. So was soprano Ah Hong, her silvery voice and emotive phrasing touching the heart of the music. Veteran baritone John Shirley-Quirk revealed innate understanding of the composer's style, if diminished vocal resources to convey it.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.